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PhD position: Developing 'attract-and-infect' strategies against the Fall Armyworm in Africa

Research / Academic
Wageningen
  • Do you want to join a collaborative project to find answers to the challenges of the world in agriculture, healthy food and the living environment?
  • Do you want to use your passion for sustainability, biological control and fundamental and applied biology as a PhD researcher?
  • Are you a connecting person who collaborates with researchers, (inter)national organizations and local farmers in an ambitious research program?
The Fall Armyworm (FAW) Spodoptera frugiperda, a major pest in staple crops in North and South America, recently invaded Africa (first reported in 2016), where it is currently spreading with incredible speed. Currently, control of this pest insect mainly depends on chemical insecticides. Apart from being very expensive for most small-scale African farmers, these insecticides also pose a genuine health risk, since the knowledge and equipment required for a safe application are mostly lacking. Chemical insecticides negatively affect the environment and non-target species and, in addition, resistance towards these insecticides has already been reported. Therefore, there is a urgent need for safe, sustainable, environmental friendly alternative control measures that can be easily applied in the field by local farmers. Biological control methods that are currently used to control lepidopteran insect pests include pheromone trapping (trapping male moths using female pheromones) and the spraying of baculoviruses (killing caterpillars). However, a combination of both methods has not been explored, and might yield exciting opportunities for biological control, surpassing the effectiveness of each single method. This project aims to develop a sustainable attract-and-infect strategy for the control of the invading fall army worm in Africa.

The project involves two PhD students that will work together to 1) Develop an African - European network of researchers and farmers (PhD1, PhD2 and supervisors); 2) Develop a successful attract strategy by studying and employing the local sex Spodoptera pheromone signatures (PhD1, supervised by Prof. Groot - University of Amsterdam (UvA)); 3) Develop a successful infect strategy using viruses that specifically kill S. frugiperda larvae (PhD2, supervised by Dr. Ros - WUR); 4) Combine and disseminate the developed attract & infect strategy, enabling implementation by local farmers (PhD1 and PhD2 under joint supervision).

The current vacancy posted here concerns PhD2; PhD1 will be recruited through the UvA website. PhD2 will:
  • help to further develop an intensive network with research groups from icipe (Kenya), IITA (Benin and Togo), and through these local partners, with the farmers in these regions;
  • collect larvae from different field sites to rear these to adults for lab and field experiments;
  • isolate and test baculovirus isolates against S. frugiperda caterpillars;
  • perform comparative genomics analysis for virus strains differing in host specificity and pathogenicity;
  • optimize the effectivity of biological control using baculoviruses;
  • together with PhD1 develop an optimized attract-and-infect strategy;
  • be willing to spend at least half the time at field stations in East and West Africa;
  • be communicative to all involved academic, industrial and farming partners.

Requirements:

  • An MSc degree in a Biology or a related field, with experience in virology, entomology and/or biological control.
  • Experience with field work.
  • Experience with molecular biological techniques, a proven ability to organize laboratory experiments and an affinity to work with insects.
  • Skills in experimental design, statistical analysis and genome/sequence analysis.
  • Proficiency in scientific writing and communication.
  • Ability to work in an international research team in a collaborative spirit.
  • Fluency in English, both written and spoken. This position requires an excellent English language proficiency (a mininum of CEFR C1 level). For more information about this proficiency level, please visit our special language page.
  • Proficient in French (at least spoken).
  • Willingness to assist in the education of BSc and MSc students.

Salary Benefits:

A challenging position, for 38 hours/week for four years, with a go-no-go decision for continuation after one year. Gross salary per month is € 2.325,= in the first year, building op to €2.972,= in the 4th year, for a fulltime appointment, in accordance with the Collective Labor Agreement Dutch Universities (Function scale P).

In addition, we offer:
  • 8% holiday allowance;
  • a structural year-end bonus of 8.3%;
  • excellent training opportunities and secondary employment conditions;
  • flexible working hours and holidays can possibly be determined in consultation so that an optimal balance between work and private life is possible;
  • excellent pension plan through ABP;
  • 232 vacation hours, the option to purchase extra and good supplementary leave schemes;
  • a choice model to put together part of your employment conditions yourself, such as a bicycle plan;
  • a lively workplace where you can easily make contacts and where many activities take place on the Wageningen Campus. A place where education, research and business are represented;
Wageningen University & Research stimulates internal career opportunities and mobility with an internal recruitment policy. There are ample opportunities for own initiative in a learning environment. We offer a versatile job in an international environment with varied activities in a pleasant and open working atmosphere.
We are an equal opportunities employer and welcome applications from all suitably qualified persons regardless of their race, sex, disability, religion/belief, sexual orientation or age.
Work Hours:

38 hours per week

Address:

Droevendaalsesteeg