PhD Candidate in Plant Molecular Biology to Unravel Perception Mechanisms in Plants

Research / Academic

Are you intrigued by the relationships between plants, insects, and the environment? Do you have a passion for unraveling the mysteries of ecological interactions at a molecular level? We invite enthusiastic and dedicated candidates to join our cutting-edge research team as a PhD student to delve into the fascinating world of plant volatiles. The position is supported by a recently awarded NWO-VIDI grant. You will be joined by a technician and a post doc working on the same subject.

If you enjoy working in an interdisciplinary research team and are eager to contribute to the understanding of plant volatile signaling and perception, then the Plant Physiology 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 research group Plant Physiology investigates the molecular and physiological basis of plant signaling cascades in response to biotic stress.

What are you going to do?
In this interdisciplinary PhD project, you will build upon groundbreaking discoveries in the field of "green leaf volatiles" (GLVs) – a group of compounds released by plants upon herbivory. Our team has uncovered a class of enzymes in plants and insects (called hexenal isomerases) that have significant influence on ecological dynamics by re-arranging the green leaf volatile, Z-3-hexenal, into E-2-hexenal. We have shown that these changes affect not only the behavior of insects interacting with the plant but also the metabolism of the plant itself as well as its nearby competitors. However, how plants perceive GLVs and generate a functional response is not known. We have already identified mutants in the model species Arabidopsis which have lost their ability to respond to the GLV E-2-hexenal.

Research Objectives: Your journey as a PhD candidate will revolve around two pivotal objectives:

  1. Perception Mechanism Elucidation: With a keen focus on E-2-hexenal, you will employ advanced genetic screening techniques to unravel the mechanism behind plant perception of GLVs. Through mutation mapping and screening for "deaf" plants, you will illuminate the enigmatic process of E-2-hexenal perception.
  2. Eco(Physiological) Implications: Building on your genetic insights, you will engineer non-responsive and non-producing E-2-hexenal mutant potato plants. This will allow you to explore the profound roles E-2-hexenal plays in self-recognition, interactions with herbivorous insects, and responses to pathogens.

During your PhD research, you will apply a variety of techniques, including (but not limited to) DNA cloning, heterologous expression of candidate genes, transgene complementation assays using CRIPS/Cas9, creation of mutant plants using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, standard Plant Physiology measurements to phenotype mutant plants, Bioassays with several pests and pathogens, RNAseq, metabolomics including GC-MS and LC-MS analyses.


Tasks and responsibilities:

  • complete a PhD thesis within the official appointment duration of four years;
  • screen a mutant population for plants deaf to E-2-hexenal and identify the underlying gene(s);
  • create mutant potato plants impaired in E-2-hexenal perception or hexenal isomerase (HI) activity using


  • validate the effect of mutations (in HI and receptor candidates) on the physiology of plants and on their

ability to interact with their environment.

  • show affinity for big data analysis and/or Bioinformatics, e.g. with Phyton, R or related program languages

(e.g. minor Programming or Bioinformatics);

  • 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 the group members and during consortium meetings. Incorporate feedback and give

input to others.

  • take a leading role in writing manuscripts;
  • participate in the Faculty of Science PhD training program and the training program of the

Experimental School of Plant Sciences;

  • assist in teaching and supervise Bachelor and Master theses and tutoring students;

Ownership and Initiative: We are particularly interested in candidates who can take ownership of their research project and demonstrate initiative in driving their work forward. As a PhD student, you will have the opportunity to shape the direction of your research and contribute novel ideas to the field.

You will get the opportunity to:

  • present your results at (inter)national scientific meetings;
  • expand your academic, professional and personal skills;
  • get access to cutting-edge facilities and technologies for innovative research;
  • contribute to science communication and outreach efforts;
  • thrive in a vibrant, impactful research community.

What do you have to offer?

You are passionate about science and have a particular interest in plant molecular biology with a special focus on biotic interactions. You enjoy performing experimental lab work (e.g., molecular biology, analytical chemistry using GC-MS and LC-MS, plant transformation and bioassays with pests and pathogens). You are not afraid of handling extensive datasets and also enjoy conducting data analyses through programming or other computational tools. You have a creative mind and look forward to work at the cutting-edge of technology. Finally, you are a team player and a pleasant colleague who enjoys being part of an interdisciplinary team of plant scientists.

Salary Benefits:

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). 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.

Based on a full-time appointment (38 hours per week) the gross monthly salary will range from €2,770 in the first year to €3,539 in the last year. This is exclusive 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus. A favourable tax agreement, the ‘30% ruling’, may apply to non-Dutch applicants. The Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities is applicable.

Are you curious about our extensive package of secondary employment benefits like our excellent opportunities for study and development? Take a look here.

Work Hours:

38 hours per week


Science Park 904