SSA - Life in extreme environments: adaptation and evolution of African soda lake fishes

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Biology


How species adapt to environmental change due to continuing and accelerating pressure on the environment is important considering estimates of anthropogenic-driven climate change. Soda lake cichlids diverged from freshwater taxa a million years ago, and now live in East Africa's soda lakes Natron and Magadi, representing some of the most hostile aquatic environments known to support teleost fishes. The soda lake cichlids have adapted to survive in extreme aquatic conditions of high pH (8.8-10.2), high salinity and high temperatures (30-43 degree C). Geological evidence suggests that this adaptation may have occurred over as short a period of time as 10,000 years.
This project offers the novel opportunity to identify genomic signatures of adaptation to naturally occurring extreme aquatic environments in teleost fish using sequence data from the latest high-throughput sequencing platforms. This project offers high training value combining bioinformatics and laboratory work with opportunities for fieldwork in Africa for additional sample collection.
Suggested reading: Ford AGP, Dasmahapatra KK, Ruber L, Gharbi K, Cezard T, Day JJ (2015) High levels of interspecific gene flow in an endemic cichlid fish adaptive radiation from an extreme lake environment. Molecular Ecology 24: 3421-3440.
This project will also be co-supervised by Dr Julia Day from the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL.


10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M011151/1 30/09/2015 29/09/2023
1792534 Studentship BB/M011151/1 30/09/2016 30/03/2021 Lewis John White
Description We have found a number of proteins and genes which are vital for the survival of our model organism in their extreme environment. These include proteins used in the production of excretory products, the excretion pathway and muscle development.

The use of these proteins in ways not considered usual shows that mechanisms important in these systems have evolved to allow these fish to survive and may be important targets for exploration in the future to maintain, improve, or increase how other fish species may be farmed or cared for in the future.

In addition, we have shown that Alcolapia, out fish model, is tractable as a lab organism with many contemporary techniques being adapted to work in their study. As such, it may now be possible for other labs to study these fish as a naturally existing extremophile organism which can provide much information to the limits of evolution and adaption in a vertebrate species and show how the vertebrate body can adapt to deal and recover from stressful stimuli.
Exploitation Route Alcolapia have now been established as a tractable lab animal and may be used by other labs in the future for a wide range of research. We have already shared this animal with two other labs who have shown interest in using them.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description FSBI Small Research Grant
Amount £3,295 (GBP)
Organisation The Fisheries Society of the British Isles 
Sector Learned Society
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2017 
End 07/2018
Description Genetics Society: Heredity Fieldwork Grant
Amount £1,500 (GBP)
Organisation The Genetics Society 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 08/2017
Description In vivo skills award
Amount £5,000 (GBP)
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 09/2020
Description PhD Facilities Awards
Amount £2,500 (GBP)
Organisation University of York 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2017 
End 01/2018
Title New laboratory species - Alcolapia alcalica 
Description Extremophile fish species Alcolapia alcalica successfully breeding in lab conditions and embryos seen to be tractable for many biological experiments. 
Type Of Material Model of mechanisms or symptoms - non-mammalian in vivo 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Potential use of this species as a future model organisms for studying animal evolution, extremophile vertebrates among others areas of biology 
Description BBSRC White Rose DTP symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact As BBSRC student rep I organised the first student led DTP symposium in York in 2017, this was attended by around 200 delegates who ranged from PhD to PI as well as a number of industry collaborators. The talks on the day were mostly from current PhD students in their final year of their projects. After the success of the 2017 symposium it was again organised by students in 2018 which I also helped to organise. At the 2018 symposium I also presented a poster of my work.
The symposium allowed people from different universities to discuss their work and hopefully to build collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
Description Zebrafish international conference (Madison) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Attended the International conference in Madison, Wisconsin where I presented a poster on my current work and was able to talk to a number of academics from across the world about my research. This gave me some ideas about future work and future directions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018