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The evolution of immunity in species exposed to invading pathogens


Invasion of ecological systems by novel, imported pathogens is rapidly becoming recognised as a tremendous conservation issue globally, with high-profile examples such as white-nose syndrome in bats and chytrid disease in frogs causing tremendous damage to their host communities.

One response that we might expect from host species which are not immediately driven to extinction is the evolution of resistance to the pathogen, which will itself be mediated by selection for either immunity or tolerance to the pathogen in question or both. The outcome of this selection will be determined by the selection pressure from the pathogen, the degree of existing heritable variability in immunity, the cost of resistance and the biology of the pathogen, which will itself be evolving to avoid host immune responses.


This project will use laboratory evolution experiments with the Drosophila melanogaster ­ Metarhizium anisopliae system, coupled with mathematical modelling to answer a number of important questions about the evolution of resistance when a host species is exposed to a novel pathogen, with hypotheses to be tested including:

  1. Is tolerance or immunity more likely to evolve?
  2. Does the cost of resistance diminish over time as better-adapted and less costly gene combinations arise?
  3. To what extent does pathogen evolution negate the effects of host resistance?


Applicant requirements are listed on the CONACYT foreign scholarship pages.

International students must provide evidence of proficient English language skills, see our entry requirements page for further information.

NB If you are interested in self-funding please contact Dr Knell by e-mail ( to discuss your eligibility for this project.

Application process

  1. Potential candidates should contact Dr Knell by e-mail ( and submit their CV and a cover letter explaining their eligibility and interest in this project.
  2. Applications to Queen Mary are accepted all year round but we encourage you to contact Dr Knell as soon as possible. If he agrees to take your application further you will be required to submit an online application.
  3. If you are successful we will give you an offer on the condition that you are given a funding award from CONACYT.
  4. When you have received a conditional offer from us, you should apply directly to CONACYT.


  • Staves PA, Knell RJ. 2010. Virulence and competitiveness: testing the relationship during inter- and intraspecific mixed infections. Evolution 64:2643­2652

  • Mazé-Guilmo E, Loot G, Páez DJ, Lefèvre T, Blanchet S. 2014. Heritable variation in host tolerance and resistance inferred from a wild host­parasite system. Proc. R. Soc. B 281:2013-2567
  • Fisher MC, Henk DA, Briggs CJ, Brownstein JS, Madoff LC, McCraw SL, Gurr SJ. 2013. Emerging fungal threats to animal, plant and ecosystem health. Nature 484:186­194.

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