PhD in bio-control microorganisms: Belgium

Joint PhD at KU Leuven Belgium (first 2 years; Prof. Wim Van den Ende) and Stellenbosch University South Africa (last year; Dr. Shaun Peters) in collaboration with University of Tartu (Estonia; Assoc. Prof. T. Visnapuu) and Prof. B. De Coninck (KU Leuven) as scientific advisor.


Exploring levan oligosaccharide-producing organisms to protect strawberry fruit

The use of Bio-Control Organisms (BCOs) and natural protective or so called “priming” compounds is gaining momentum, offering opportunities for sustainable and environmentally friendly disease control on various crop species. Strawberry is a highly popular small fruit crop worldwide with a significant economic importance and a large market share in Europe. In Begium and Estonia strawberry is the most important berry crop. Diseases caused by fungal pathogens on strawberry plants are causing tremendous economic loss. The aim of the project is to incorporate the expertise of research groups at KU Leuven (Prof. W. Van den Ende; Belgium), University of Tartu (Assoc. Prof. T. Visnapuu; Estonia) and University of Stellenbosch (Dr. S. Peters; South Africa) for exploration and initial screening of microbial communities in strawberry fruit that grow better on levan, levan oligosaccharides (LOS) or other types of natural oligosaccharides that are known to exert prebiotic effects and/or boost plant immunity. Focus will be on LOS producing bacteria harbouring endo-levanases that are able to protect strawberry from grey mold (Botrytis cinerea). The effect of combinations of selected candidate BCOs and oligosaccharides will be evaluated during the fruit production and postharvest stages. The goal is also to increase our insights in structure-function relationships of the carbohydrate-degrading enzymes that are involved in such processes. These will on the longer term greatly stimulate enzyme design-based applications and the development of superior priming compounds and also prebiotics that will be required to reduce the widespread use of agrochemicals and antibiotics through plant and animal disease prevention strategies.


Please send your CV, transcript of records and a one-page cover letter explaining how you would approach the position, taking into account the selection criteria below, to by April 30 2022. Make sure you merge all documents together into one single PDF file.

Selection criteria/skills

  • You have (or you will predictably obtain by the end of June 2022) a Masters Degree in Biology, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Biotechnology, Bioscience Engineering, Molecular Biology or an equivalent degree in Life or (Applied) Biological Sciences with clear attention for sustainability. Hands-on expertise of basic microbiology skills is definitely a plus.
  • You have excellent study grades.
  • You are an enthusiastic and highly motivated student that can design experiments independently.
  • You are a team player with good English communication skills, motivated to work in a collaborative project with other researchers, PhD students, postdocs and technical assistants.
  • You are passionate about plant microbial interactions and interested in enzymology and heterologous expression systems to uncover the functionality of novel enzymes producing oligosaccharides with signalling, immunomodulatory or prebiotic properties.

Our offer

  • The opportunity to obtain a joined PhD degree at two top Universities, KU Leuven and Stellenbosch University, already collaborating with each other for decades, and further embedded in strong international research networks.
  • We offer a full time PhD scholarship for 3 years. Your salary will be ca. €2000 per month at KU Leuven during the first 2 years (covered by KU Leuven CELSA 21/013 project) and ca 10000 ZAR per month at the University of Stellenbosch during the last year. These are more than sufficient to cover local living expenses.
  • Preferable start date is May 15 2022, but this date can be negotiated, although the project should start July 15 at the very latest.
  • Collaboration in young and very dynamic scientific teams, offering access to multidisciplinary research experiences.
  • Extensive travelling opportunities in different cultural backgrounds.

The Research Environment…and more

The successful candidate operates within an international framework including, among others, the Lab of Molecular Plant Biology, Sugar Metabolism Group (Prof. W. Van den Ende, KU Leuven, Belgium), the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology (Assoc. Prof. T. Visnapuu, University of Tartu, Estonia) and the Institute for Plant Biotechnology (Dr. S. Peters, Stellenbosch University, South Africa).

More information and apply
Share this opportunity