We are no longer looking for MSc students. Details on other Masters project in our institute can also be found here. However, if you are interested in the projects listed below, or our broad research interests, please contact Daniel Rankin.
1) Evolution of helping and harming in bacteria
Not only can genes pass between parents and offspring (vertical transmission) but in a number of organisms, they can also be transferred horizontally. In many bacteria, it appears that genes involved in virulence and anti-biotic resistance are carried on plasmids, and hence can be transferred horizontally. This is especially important for genes involved in bacterial cooperation. We ask why these genes in particular are transmitted horizontally. We make models to ask what the conditions under which this is favoured, and also use genome data from Escherichia coli to test our models and look for interesting questions. This project would also be suitable for someone wanting to learn more about genome evolution.
2) The teaching of evolution and the effect on hospital-acquired superbugs
Hospital acquired infections account for a large number of deaths in the western world. This is mostly due to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Despite bacteria evolving to resist antibiotics, the awareness of evolution among doctors and nurses is still lacking. This project will aim to look at whether knowledge of evolution can play a role in helping hospitals understand the risks of antibiotic resistance. We will use surveys to learn about the knowledge of natural selection and the evolution of antibiotic resistance among doctors and nurses in hospitals, both in Switzerland and (if possible) in other countries. We will further obtain data on rates of hospital infections, and resistance to antibiotics among those strains. This will allow us to ask whether teaching evolution to hospital workers can help to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance.
3) Modelling the resolution of conflict in animals and bacteria
Public goods dilemmas, such as global pollution present large scale problems for human societies. However, many other organisms have solved these problems to allow them to use their resources prudently. We therefore ask how this is possible, and ask why cooperation occurs, and how conflicts are resolved in nature. To do this, we use mathematical modelling. We will investigate the conditions under which cooperation is favoured, and where over exploitation of shared resources does not occur. We build very simple analytical models, as well as computer simulations. No knowledge of programming (or even maths) is required, but you will be helped to learn, but a willingness to undertake a theoretical project is essential. We also model situations involved in human evolution, particularly how humans use information make decisions regarding whether to help or harm other individuals. However, our approach is so broad that it applied to almost any system, from bacteria to animals. This project would be suited for someone who wants to learn programming and some theoretical skills.
4) The evolution of communication systems in humans
We use economic experiments with student participants to look at how communication can evolve. Allowing students to play simple learning games, and then pass arbitrary signals to each other, we can examine the conditions under which 1) they attach meaning to the signals and 2) the communicate in an honest way. We base our experiments on solid models, so we know what to expect, and have developed a system that allows us to manipulate the conditions under which signaling is favoured. For example, we ask the following questions: how can communication systems arise in larger groups? Are structured interactions important? Does reputation and gossip play a role in communication? How does the complexity of a signal affect a participants ability to remember meaning? Are there common rules or conventions involved in communication systems?