The Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change

is a research museum of the Leibniz Association

Sophie Smith

PhD student
Mail: sophie.smith [at]



Research interests

I am an evolutionary biologist, specifically interested in how traits related to sex and reproduction influence evolution. My previous projects have focussed on how mate choices can drive reproductive isolation between species, and now I want to investigate how differences between sexes evolve in the genome. My project focuses on the evolution of sex chromosomes in Lake Tanganyika cichlid fish, specifically how and why new sex chromosomes arise.
I was introduced to the topic of the evolution of sex during my undergraduate degree at the University of Sheffield, UK (BSc Biology), where I also started working with Heliconius butterflies, and became fascinated by adaptive radiations. Following this, I spend two years as a research assistant for the University of Sheffield, based at Universidad Regional Amazónica IKIAM, Ecuador, investigating thermal tolerance in Heliconius. I then joined the Erasmus Mundus masters programme in Evolutionary Biology (MEME), studying at Uppsala Universitet (Sweden), Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich (Germany), Universidad Regional Amazónica IKIAM (Ecuador), and the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin (Germany). Throughout this programme I developed my interest in studying sex chromosomes and sexual antagonism in the genome.
Sex chromosomes are an especially fascinating part of the genome, because they help us understand key mechanisms of genomic evolution such as recombination suppression, transposable elements and genomic conflict. Cichlids especially have an incredibly high rate of turnover in sex chromosomes, and I hope that by the end of my PhD, I will understand a little better why this is the case.
I will use bioinformatics to analyse molecular data from several species, to compare how evolutionary forces influence the genome. I hope to use these results to understand how sex influences speciation and biodiversity, and vice versa. Outside of research, I spend a lot of time exploring the region around Bonn, and all the other museums here, and learning German!

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