PhD scholarship in Ecology of Plant-Microbe-Insect Interactions

Project title: Impact of microbial inoculums on microbiome composition and resistance-induction of host plants against insect pest

Project description

The aim of the project is to determine the impact of beneficial microbial inoculation and microbial volatiles on rhizosphere microbial community and efficacy of induced systemic resistance against insect pests.

By applying state-of-the-art, genomic, transcriptomic and metabolomics methods we will explore the mechanisms underlying the microbe-induced resistance against pests. Results will be integrated with parallel experiments done by another ESR to evaluate whether microbial inoculants can be used to enhance plant defence without impeding the efficacy of insect biocontrol agents. Candidates should have a strong background in plant-microbe interactions and microbial ecology and experimentation.

The PhD position is associated to a larger European training network, MiRA, with 14 other PhD positions at other participating institutions. We strongly encourage candidates to also apply for other similar positions within the MiRA network, see

Principal supervisors

Paolina Garbeva and Jos Raaijmakers, Department of Microbial Ecology, NIOO-KNAW

Contact: Paolina Garbeva , Phone +31 (0)317-473492

Planned secondments

CASI, Spain  & KOPPERT NL – Test effects of commercial and potential MiR strains on microbial communities and vice versa (5 months)


MiRA is an International Training Network (ITN) funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement.

Plants are intimately associated with a diversity of beneficial microorganisms in their root zone, some of which can enhance the plant’s resistance to insect pests. Thus, the use of Microbe-induced Resistance (MiR) to reduce pest losses in agriculture has emerged as a promising possibility to improve crop resilience and reduce use of harmful pesticides.European companies have therefore started to develop and market beneficial microbes. However, MiR appears to be strongly context dependent, with reduced benefits under certain biotic and abiotic conditions and in some crop varieties. Further, it is a challenge to deliver and ensure stable associations of beneficial microbes and plants, and avoid undesired effects on beneficial insects. Thus we absolutely must improve our understanding of MiR mechanisms and context-dependency, in order to improve context stability of MiR and promote the use of MiR for crop protection. The MiRA project will train early stage researchers in basic and applied research on context-dependency of MiR, mechanisms, and impacts on plant performance and other biocontrol organisms, and use this understanding to improve our ability to predict the effectiveness of MiR under different conditions, to select plant and microbial strains with improved context-stability, and to develop better methods for the formulation of microbial inoculants and their application in agriculture. Finally, we will analyse economic prospects and constraints for MiR development and use. We have assembled a consortium of academic institutions and companies, including microbial inoculant producers and agricultural advisors. Our ESRs will be trained within this multi-sectoral interdisciplinary network for a future career in research, product and service development in European horticulture and agriculture, pushing boundaries in European research and innovation.

Job description

Your key tasks as a PhD student in MiRA are:

  • Participate in the research environment at NIOO-KNAW and the network activities of MiRA
  • Manage and carry through your research project
  • Take PhD courses
  • Write scientific articles and your PhD thesis
  • Participate in congresses
  • Teach and disseminate your research

Key criteria for the assessment of candidates

  • A master’s degree related to the subject area of the project
  • The grade point average achieved
  • Professional qualifications relevant to the PhD programme
    • Primary skills: experimental experience with plants, microorganisms, and/or insects, plant ecology, statistical analysis
    • Relevant skills: plant biochemistry, microbiology,  insect biology, multitrophic interactions
  • Previous research publications
  • Other professional activities
  • Language skills: fluency in English

Formal requirements and eligibility

At the time of commencement, it is required that the candidate has not been awarded a doctorate degree and are within the first 4 years (full-time equivalent) of their research careers. Furthermore, the candidate must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in The Netherlands for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to their recruitment. Short stays, such as holidays, are not taken into account. The candidate is required to spend part of their project period at other institutions in the MiRA consortium on secondments.

Terms of employment

Terms of appointment and payment according to the rules and regulations laid down by European Union’s Horizon 2020 Marie Curie Initial Training Networks.

The position is a temporary appointment, initially for 1 year and upon satisfactory performance to be prolonged for a maximum of 4 years total. The appointment includes an extensive package of fringe benefits.

Place of employment

The PhD student position will be hosted at the Department of Microbial Ecology of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology. The Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) is a top research institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). It is located in Wageningen and focuses on fundamental and strategic research on individual organisms, populations, communities, and ecosystems.

Application procedure

The application, in English, must be submitted electronically to, and mention “MiRA-ESR5” in the subject header.

Please include:

  • Cover Letter, stating which PhD project you are applying for and detailing your motivation and background for applying for the specific PhD project.
  • A statement if (and which) you have applied for other MiRA PhD fellowships at NIOO-KNAW or other MiRA participants
  • Max 1-page proposal for research activities to pursue in the PhD study program
  • CV
  • Diploma and transcripts of records (BSc and MSc)
  • 1-3 professional referees (Name, address, telephone & email)
  • Documentation of English language qualifications
  • Other information for consideration, e.g. list of publications (if any)

NIOO-KNAW wishes our staff to reflect the diversity of society and thus welcomes applications from all qualified candidates regardless of personal background.

It is expected that by the end of March 2018, all applicants will have received information regarding the evaluation of their application.

The deadline for applications is 14.01.2018. Applications received later than this date will not be considered.


General information about MiRA is available at or by contacting Project Coordinator, Associate Professor Thure P Hauser, Dept. Plant and Environmental, University of Copenhagen, tpha@plen.ku.dkPhone: +45 3533 2818

The PhD candidate will enroll in the graduate program of Graduate School of Experimental Plant Sciences and will defend the PhD thesis at Leiden University

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