Lessons from nature: Untapping the full potential of crop root microbiomes (PhD fellowship)

Applicants are invited for a PhD fellowship/scholarship at Graduate School of Technical Sciences, Aarhus University, Denmark, within the Agroecology programme. The position is available from 01 August 2024 or later. You can submit your application via the link under ‘how to apply’.

Title: Lessons from nature: Untapping the full potential of crop root microbiomes

Research area and project description: We are inviting candidates interested in performing a PhD that mixes fundamental and applied research to plant microbiomes to make agriculture more resilient. The PhD is part of a larger project funded by the Villum Foundation that starts in August 2024.

Agriculture is one of the leading sources of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. Fertiliser application is a major contributor the total emissions associated with agriculture, and if less can be applied, agriculture becomes more sustainable. Microbes can influence how plants respond to stress and can help plants uptake nutrients. Therefore, crops can be bred to cultivate ‘better’ microbial communities that can mitigate some of the environmental impact of agriculture. The overall aim of this project will be to study the co-evolution of wild crop relatives and their microbiome, and learn from this relationship to breed better crops.

In this project, you will explore the root microbes of maize and barley varieties and compare them to their wild relatives. You will test whether these wild relatives can better use microbes compared to their modern crops to mitigate stresses. Further, you will test whether the ancestral soil microbiomes (from Mexico for maize, from The Fertile Crescent for barley) are better sources of microbes compared to modern agricultural soil. Finally, you will also search for probiotics for modern crops by exploring both the ancestral plant (the wild relatives) and ancestral soil microbiomes.

The PhD project specifically entails working with technicians to grow large amounts of plants (crops and their wild relatives) and subjecting them to abiotic stresses (with assistance from gardeners). After which, they will have their root microbiomes profiled (using automated robots). The project will therefore involve co-ordinating between project partners, hands on work in the lab/glasshouse, but also a significant amount of bioinformatics and data analysis. As part of your training, you will be given the opportunity to develop relevant skills in both scientific (data analysis, lab skills etc.) and non-scientific (communication, project management, use of AI tools) areas. Importantly, this work will be performed with project partners in Europe, North America and North Africa, and some research stays are required (1.5 months in Mexico, 3 months in the USA).

The PhD position is based in the beautiful village of Flakkebjerg (near Slagelse) within the Department of Agroecology, as part of Aarhus University. You will work daily with Tenure-Track Assistant Professor Christopher Barnes and Senior Researcher Mette Vestergård, working with a vibrant team of researchers studying different aspects of plant-microbe interactions. While working remotely is allowed (both professors do this), regular attendance within the department will be required to build a group dynamic.

Project description. For technical reasons, you must upload a project description. Please simply copy the project description above and upload it as a PDF in the application.

Qualifications and specific competences: Applicants must have a relevant Master’s degree (120 ECTS) in Biology, Maths or similar and a strong interest in plants and microbes. It is a bonus to have documented experience with quantitative data analysis on large data sets with Matlab, R, Python or similar software. However the project will also require working abroad for some months, growing plants in glasshouses and lab work and we encourage all interested candidates with skills in some of these areas to apply. You will therefore be trained and supported in the different aspects of the project.

Good collaborative skills are required, and you are expected to contribute fully to the large, diverse and highly active microbial ecology research group that you will become part of. We also expect you to be able to communicate in both written and oral English.

Place of employment and place of work: The place of employment is Aarhus University, and the place of work is Department of Agroecology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, Forsøgsvej 1, Building 7611, room B2434200 Slagelse Danmark

Contacts: Applicants seeking further information are invited to contact:

  • Senior researcher Mette Vestergård, (main supervisor)
  • Tenure-track assistant professor Christopher Barnes, (co-supervisor and project owner)

How to apply: Please follow this link to submit your application

Application deadline is Monday 01 April 2024 at 23:59 CEST.

Preferred starting date is 01 August 2024.

For information about application requirements and mandatory attachments, please see our application guide.

Please note: Only documents received prior to the application deadline will be evaluated. Thus, documents sent after deadline will not be taken into account.

The programme committee may request further information or invite the applicant to attend an interview.
Shortlisting will be used, which means that the evaluation committee only will evaluate the most relevant applications.

Aarhus University’s ambition is to be an attractive and inspiring workplace for all and to foster a culture in which each individual has opportunities to thrive, achieve and develop. We view equality and diversity as assets, and we welcome all applicants. All interested candidates are encouraged to apply, regardless of their personal background. Salary and terms of employment are in accordance with applicable collective agreement.

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