December, 2015

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PhD in Plant-Microbe-Insect Interactions

The Organisation

Agroscope is an innovative research institute for agriculture. Agroscope is part of the federal administration and is attached to the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research EAER. It has numerous research stations around Switzerland and the head office is in Bern Liebefeld. The Agroscope Institute for Sustainability Sciences in Zurich conducts research for an environmental friendly and competitive agriculture.

A PhD position is available in the research group Plant-Soil-Interactions of Prof. Marcel van der Heijden ( within the research topic Rhizosphere Ecology ( headed by Dr. Klaus Schlaeppi. Research in the Plant-Soil-Interactions group focuses on plant-soil-microbe interactions, soil biodiversity and sustainable farming systems and soil ecosystem services.

A PhD position is available in the project “Functioning of the maize rhizosphere microbiota in aboveground insect” !
resistance. This project is funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) and part of the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) Action FA1405 “Using three-way interactions between plants, microbes and arthropods to enhance crop protection and production”. The project is in close collaboration with Prof. Matthias Erb from the University of Bern, Switzerland.

Tasks In this project

You will investigate 3-way interactions between plants, microbes and insects. Plants manipulate the soil surrounding their roots (aka the rhizosphere) by the secretion of root exudates and attract thereby a specialized microbial community to their roots. Some root-associated microbes are known to influence plant growth and health. Root exudation results in changed soil properties, which influence the performance of a next generation of plants and such effects are referred to as plant-soil feedbacks. Today, the functions of whole plant-associated microbial communities are not well understood and also their involvement in the context of multi-partite feedbacks remain largely unexplored. In your work you will examine the role of root exudation on the rhizosphere microbiota and their effects on plant insect resistance. You will experiment with maize lines differing in root exudation, test plant resistance using insect assays, manipulate the root microbiot!
a in microcosms and you will characterize the rhizosphere microbial communities using sequencing.

Position Requirements and What We Offer

We are seeking a highly motivated PhD student with an MSc degree in (Plant) Biology or (Microbial) Ecology. Applicants should have expertise in experimental plant science, molecular and microbiological methods Experience in microbial community analysis using high-throughput sequencing, related bioinformatics and statistics in microbial ecology is advantageous. You are an achievement-oriented and open-minded personality with good capacity for teamwork. Communication and IT skills as well as good knowledge of two official Swiss languages round out the requirements profile. Working language is English.

We offer you varied work in an interesting working environment as well as thorough initial training. Agroscope has excellent research facilities with well-equipped laboratories, greenhouses, climate chambers and agricultural fields. You will enjoy flexible working hours and good employee benefits. Start date: March 2016. Duration: 3 years.
Place of Work Agroscope Institute for Sustainability Sciences in 8046 Zurich-Affoltern
Salary according to the guidelines of the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Application Address

If this challenge appeals to you and you meet our requirements profile, we look forward to receive your online application  at

Online applications consist of a single PDF containing a complete academic record, CV, list of publications, copy of certificates and addresses of 2 referees.

For further information: Dr. Klaus Schlaeppi project leader in the Plant-Soil-Interactions research group, phone +41 58 468 72 92, (Do not send applications to this e-mail)

Closing date for applications: 22 January 2016