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California Institute of Technology: Postdoctoral position in genomics of convergence and social symbiosis (Parker Lab)

(posted 2018-03-06)

Research focus

A postdoctoral position is available to study the genomic basis of evolutionary convergence in the lab of Joe Parker at the California Institute of Technology.

Work in the Parker lab is focused on the evolution of complex phenotypes, principally in the context of symbiosis. We use a unique system to explore this phenomenon: the convergent evolution of symbioses between rove beetles and social insects. Rove beetles (family Staphylinidae) are the largest metazoan family, and include multiple remarkable lineages that have evolved to become "social parasites"— stealth impostors that infiltrate ant or termite societies, employing radical behavioral, anatomical and chemical adaptations. We have found that many of the most extreme symbiotic phenotypes have evolved convergently numerous times in distantly related lineages. We are a now seeking a postdoctoral candidate to probe the genomic basis of complex phenotypic convergence in this system. Our goals are twofold: i) Pinpoint shared or unique molecular changes that drive the evolution of social symbiosis in rove beetles; ii) Make basic inferences into the long-standing question of how complex phenotypic changes can arise repeatedly and predictably over deep evolutionary timescales.

Aspects of this work will involve two study systems: 1) A deep-time system encompassing symbiont lineages from across the rove beetle subfamily Aleocharinae that are separated by up to 100 million years. 2) A recently-evolved system in which multiple rove beetle lineages have convergently evolved symbioses with a single ant genus in the South Western US. This latter project involves potential fieldwork at sites in Southern California and Arizona. The successful candidate will spearhead genome sequencing of free-living and symbiotic species from across phylogeny, and use comparative genomic tools to understand patterns of genome evolution. There is potential for collaboration with Caltech labs using machine learning and single cell profiling, and the candidate will also lead genome/transcriptome assembly and annotation of several higher quality reference genomes to facilitate functional genetic studies in laboratory model rove beetle species. Depending on the candidate, the project may involve wet lab work to functionally test loci with possible causal roles in symbiosis, or involve collaboration with others to this end.

The following papers illustrate the rove beetle-ant system:

Parker, J., Eldredge, K.T., Thomas, I.M., Davis, S., Coleman, R.T. (2017) Hox-Logic of Preadaptations for Social Insect Symbiosis in Rove Beetles. bioRxiv, 198945
Maruyama, M., and Parker, J. (2017) Deep-Time Convergence in Rove Beetle Symbionts of Army Ants. Current Biology, 27, 920–926 PMID: 28285995
Yamamoto, S.†, Maruyama, M. and Parker, J. (2016) Evidence for Social Parasitism of Early Insect Societies by Cretaceous Rove Beetles.Nature Communications, 7: 13658 PMID: 27929066


Applications are encouraged from talented and motivated individuals who have a Ph.D. or are nearing completion of their Ph.D. with experience in genome and transcriptome sequencing, genome assembly, annotation, comparative genomics and genome evolution. Interest or experience in machine learning and/or single cell profiling are desirable. Top candidates will have a strong track record of research productivity, excellent communication skills, enthusiasm for basic research and a collegial approach to science. Candidates should send a cover letter, a detailed curriculum vitae, and names and contact details for three references to

The California Institute of Technology

Caltech is consistently ranked among the top research universities in the world and hosts a diverse and collaborative scientific community. Caltech is located in Pasadena, California, a vibrant city 10 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles and minutes from the Parker lab's fieldwork sites in the San Gabriel mountains. More info about the Parker lab: