Join the lab

 Postdoctoral position 

We are recruiting a Postdoctoral Researcher Associate to join our group at the University of Edinburgh to investigate mitochondrial effects on innate immunity in Drosophila melanogaster. The post will be based at the University of Edinburgh, but will also collaborate with Dr Tiina Salminen (Tampere University, Finland). The position is funded by a Leverhulme Trust grant and is available from September 2019 for 2 years and 5 months.

The project

Mitochondria are increasingly recognised as important mediators of innate immune responses. However, it is currently unclear how naturally occurring variation in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) contributes to the widespread heterogeneity in infection outcomes.

The successful applicant will address this question using Drosophila melanogaster, a powerful and genetically tractable model of immunity where it is possible to generate cybrid lines with diverse mitochondrial genomes introgressed onto controlled nuclear backgrounds. This system is currently well established in our lab, and the project will combine phenotypic, physiological and genomic approaches to test the effect of specific mitochondrial polymorphisms on cellular and humoral responses to pathogens and parasitoids. The successful applicant will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the project and will collaborate in designing and implementing experiments using a collection of flies reflecting global mitochondrial diversity.

Relevant skills therefore include: carrying out large experimental infections using viral and bacterial pathogens and/or parasitoid wasps; measuring phenotypic outcomes of infection (survival, microbe loads, behaviour); measuring immune gene expression (RNA extraction RT-qPCR) and other immune outputs (e.g ROS); disrupting mitochondrial function either pharmacologically or using UAS-RNAi; preparing samples for, and analysing data from, transcriptome sequencing (RNA-Seq); active knowledge of statistical analyses using R.

We do not expect applicants to have expertise in all of the above, and local support and training is available, either through current lab knowledge or specialised training courses.

What we are looking for

The Applicant will be able to independently plan, carry out and collect data from experiments, and will be able to present information on research progress and outcomes, communicate complex information, orally, in writing and electronically. While the ideal applicant would have a strong background in invertebrate immunity and mitochondrial biology, our main goal is to recruit someone with broad interests in the ecology and evolution of host-pathogen interactions who is enthusiastic and generally curious about the causes and consequences of variation in disease phenotypes. Knowledge and experience with Drosophila genetics would be beneficial.  However, we are flexible so if you think you might be a great fit for this position but are concerned about meeting all criteria please get in touch before applying (to Dr Pedro Vale (


The lab and the department

The Vale group addresses the causes and consequences of individual variation in the response to infection and we use the fruit fly as a model of infection, immunity and behaviour. The overall aim of our research is to understand how individual-level heterogeneity scales up to population-level disease outcomes. More details about the lab and what we do can be found here

We are based in the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, which includes diverse expertise in evolutionary and ecological genetics, host-pathogen interactions, and population genomics in a range of study species. We work in a very dynamic and sociable department and the successful applicant should become an active member of the local research community, and enjoy and thrive in such a collaborative environment.

Living in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a small but perfectly formed city, benefiting from all the perks of living in a capital city while maintaining a strong connection to Scotland’s beautiful outdoors. We are constantly spoiled by the ever-present richness of its history (there is a medieval castle in the middle of the city!). You are rarely ever more than 20 minutes away from beautiful hill walks, climbing an old volcano, or even the beach! Edinburgh is socially progressive, politically enlightened and home to one of the biggest and most diverse cultural festivals in the world. Many of us have moved here from elsewhere and fallen in love with the city. Maybe you will too! 




PhD position to start in October 2020

Immune and physiological determinants of host heterogeneity in pathogen shedding and spreading
Individuals vary tremendously in their propensity to transmit infections. Such host heterogeneity – most striking in the case of super-spreading and super-shedding individuals - makes it difficult to predict, manage, and curtail epidemics.  Identifying the causes of host variation in transmission is challenging in the wild, but an alternative approach is to study disease transmission under a variety of genetic and environmental contexts in controlled experimental conditions.

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is a powerful and genetically tractable model of immunity, infection and behaviour, making it an ideal model system for experimental epidemiology. This project will capitalize on these strengths to explicitly test the immune and physiological determinants of host variation in pathogen spread. Using techniques developed in our lab to measure pathogen shedding from individual flies and population level pathogen spread, this is an exciting opportunity to finely dissect the contributions of genes involved in immunity and physiology on pathogen transmission.

The project could go in a number of directions depending on the interests of the student. Potential questions include testing the role of specific immune-deficiencies, damage repair mechanisms, or metabolic phenotypes on pathogen shedding and spread. There is also scope to overlap with current work in the lab which focuses on natural genetic variation and sex differences in these mechanisms, the effect of dietary restriction, or the role of co-infections. Collaborations with colleagues applying both empirical and theoretical approaches to this problem are also likely.

The ideal student will have a strong background in infectious diseases, parasitology, disease ecology, evolutionary ecology or similar background and should have broad curiosity about why individuals vary in how sick they get and how sick they make others. Candidates should enjoy working in a vibrant, collaborative and supportive research environment. Critical thinking and boundless enthusiasm and motivation for large experiments with insects is essential. An aptitude for quantitative and statistical thinking is beneficial, but adequate training will be provided. 


  1. VanderWaal, K. L., & Ezenwa, V. O. (2016). Heterogeneity in pathogen transmission: mechanisms and methodology. Functional Ecology, 30(10), 1606-1622

  2. Vale PF, Choisy M, Little TJ. Host nutrition alters the variance in parasite transmission potential. Biol Lett. 2013;9: 20121145. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2012.1145

  3. Siva-Jothy JA, Prakash A, Vasanthakrishnan RB, Monteith KM, Vale PF. Oral Bacterial Infection and Shedding in Drosophila melanogaster. JoVE (Journal of Visualized Experiments). 2018; e57676–e57676. doi:10.3791/57676


To apply please fill in this form, and remember to include a single attachment with:

1. A brief CV (2 pages max), 

2. A short statement outlining your research interests and experience, and how you see your interests combining with those of our group;

3. Contact details of 2 references who can comment on you, hopefully favourably! 


Further details about the project and how to apply can be found on Find a PhD.

General information on how to apply for a PhD at the University of Edinburgh can be found here.