PhD candidate Biosynthesis of chemical signals in plants (UvA Science Park)


Just like all other organisms plants communicate, not only with their own species, but also with hundreds of other organisms surrounding them, using the language of chemistry. In this project, you will unravel the biosynthesis of a triterpenoid hybrid chemical signal that is jointly made by tomato and the microbes associated with its roots. We believe this signal is important for both plant and microbes, and, intriguingly, it is also perceived by parasitic nematodes. You will uncover how this language is created in the plant through transcriptome and metabolomics data analysis and biochemical characterization of plant genes. By knocking out or silencing candidate genes you will study the function of this language for plants, microbes and nematodes. You will collaborate with a PhD candidate and a technician who will work on the microbial side in the same project.


If you enjoy working in an interdisciplinary research team and are eager to contribute to the understanding of how plants interact with other organisms, then the Plant Hormone Biology group, which is part of the Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences in the Faculty of Science at the University of Amsterdam, is the place to be. 


The mission of the Plant Hormone Biology group is to understand the chemical communication of plants with other organisms in their environment. With an international and diverse team of post-docs, PhDs and technicians with expertise varying from analytical chemistry to biochemistry and molecular biology we study how plants use signaling molecules to affect the behavior of other organisms in the rhizosphere. This includes communication with microbial communities that have been shown to play a crucial role in the protection of plants against a range of stresses. 


Our research is aimed at understanding the biological relevance of this chemical communication and use it as a basis for improving resistance and harnessing the potential of beneficial root microbes resulting in improved stress resilience in crops for sustainable food production with reduced inputs.


What are you going to do?

You will be responsible for the identification of the tomato genes - and characterisation of the enzymes they encode - involved in the biosynthesis of the triterpenoid signal. Biosynthetic candidate genes will be functionally characterized, using heterologous expression and gene silencing approaches. Finally, you will knock out a selection of the most interesting genes in tomato by stable transformation using CRISPR/Cas9. Through these knockout lines you will study the function of the triterpenoid product for plants, microbes and nematodes.


Tasks and responsibilities:
•    complete a PhD thesis in four years; 
•    perform your experiments in a systematic and well controlled manner and keep accurate records by

     properly documenting and organizing your work;
•    be an active member of the research group and take responsibility for shared tasks. Discuss your work

     with group members. Incorporate feedback and give input to others; 
•    present your results at (inter)national scientific meetings;
•    help writing project reports;
•    develop you academic, professional and personal skills;
•    take a leading role in writing and publishing manuscripts;
•    participate in the Faculty of Science PhD training program and the training program of the

     Experimental Plant Sciences graduate school;
•    assist in teaching and supervising Bachelor and Master students;


What do you have to offer?

You are passionate about science and have a particular interest in experimental plant biology and plant metabolism. You enjoy performing experimental work (e.g. molecular biology, analytical chemistry using LC-MS, plant transformation), as well as data analysis and writing. You enjoy working in a multidisciplinary team and are a team player. You have good communication skills.


Your experience and profile 
You have/are:
•    a MSc degree in Biology or Plant Science;
•    experience with experimental work in plants;
•    experience with omics analysis (especially transcriptomics and metabolomics);
•    experience with data analysis using R or related program languages;
•    experience with plant metabolism and biochemistry;
•    affinity with analytical chemistry;
•    fluent in English, both written and spoken.


Our offer

A temporary contract for 38 hours per week for the duration of 4 years (the initial contract will be for a period of 18 months and after satisfactory evaluation it will be extended for a total duration of 4 years). The preferred starting date is as soon as possible. This should lead to a dissertation (PhD thesis). We will draft an educational plan that includes attendance of courses and (international) meetings. We also expect you to assist in teaching undergraduates and master students.


Your salary will range between €2,770 in the first year to €3,539 gross per month in the last year of employment, on the basis of a full working week of 38 hours. This sum does not include the 8% holiday allowance and the 8.3% year-end allowance. A favorable tax agreement, the 30% ruling, may apply to non-Dutch applicants. The Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities (CAO NU) is applicable.


Besides the salary and a vibrant and challenging environment at Science Park we offer you multiple fringe benefits:
•    232 holiday hours per year (based on fulltime);
•    multiple courses to follow from our Teaching and Learning Centre;
•    a complete educational program for PhD students;
•    the possibility to follow courses to learn Dutch;
•    help with housing for a studio or small apartment when you’re moving from abroad. 


Are you curious to read more about our extensive package of secondary employment benefits, take a look here.


About us

The University of Amsterdam is the Netherlands' largest university, offering the widest range of academic programmes. At the UvA, 30,000 students, 6,000 staff members and 3,000 PhD candidates study and work in a diverse range of fields, connected by a culture of curiosity.


The Faculty of Science has a student body of around 8,000, as well as 1,800 members of staff working in education, research or support services. Researchers and students at the Faculty of Science are fascinated by every aspect of how the world works, be it elementary particles, the birth of the universe or the functioning of the brain. 


The Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences (SILS) is one of the Faculty of Science’s largest institutes. Its approximately 240 scientists and staff members work in 17 research groups that perform excellent research centered on four themes: Neurosciences, Cell & Systems Biology, Microbiology and Green Life Sciences.


Do you want to know more about our organization? Read more about working at the University of Amsterdam.


Any questions?

Do you have any questions or do you require additional information? Please contact:
•    Dr. Lemeng Dong

Job application

If you feel the profile fits you, and you are interested in the job, we look forward to receiving your application. You can apply online via this link. We accept applications until and including 05 November 2023. 

Applications should include the following information (all files besides your cv should be submitted in one single pdf file):


•    a detailed CV including the months (not just years) when referring to your education and work experience;
•    a letter of motivation;
•    the names and email addresses of two references who can provide letters of recommendation.


Only complete applications received within the response period via the link below will be considered.


A knowledge security check can be part of the selection procedure.
(for details: National knowledge security guidelines).


The first interviews will be held in the second half of November 2023.