PhD Bioinformatics position 'Novel enzymes for fragrance and flavour'

Published on
February 9, 2017
Location Wageningen
Scientific field Natural Sciences
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We are looking for

The PhD student will take part in a multidisciplinary applied science project with the biotechnology industry. The project focuses on terpene synthases, a huge class of enzymes relevant for production of many flavour and fragrance ingredients. Very little is known about structure-function relationships in these enzymes, although thousands of genes encoding terpene synthases are present in genome databases. To disclose this enormous reservoir of enzymes that are potentially relevant for biotechnology, novel technologies need to be developed. The project operates on the interface of bioinformatics and enzymology. Two PhD students will be appointed, one focusing on bioinformatics and one on enzymological aspects. The enzymologist will develop novel high-throughput screening tools for production of volatiles. The bioinformatician (this position) will be involved in developing novel function prediction tools, based on machine learning.
In this project, you will perform the bioinformatics and machine learning research. Your task will be to develop and apply machine learning methods - approaches that convert data (here: terpene synthase sequences) into features and find patterns in these features that distinguish various classes. By associating particular patterns in the features with enzymatic properties, the algorithms will learn how to recognize a protein with a particular property. Besides methodological work, you will closely collaborate with the second (enzymology) PhD student in this project to design enriched enzyme libraries and analyse and interpret experimental data that is generated.

We ask

We are looking for an ambitious, enthusiastic team player and result-driven scientist with:

  • an excellent academic record (MSc) in bioinformatics, computer science or a related area
  • demonstrable skills in mathematics, statistics and programming
  • proven proficiency in algorithm development, preferably related to machine learning
  • affinity with protein structure and function in the context of industrial applications
  • excellent oral and written communication skills in English

We offer

We offer a dynamic and driven research environment with a strong international profile and a growing  number of young researchers; a state-of-the art computational infrastructure; close collaboration with other PhD students, researchers in the plant and animal sciences and relevant companies; and the possibility to further develop your scientific education with courses, training and conferences. There will be opportunities to be involved in teaching at workshops or courses.
The position is full-time (38 hours/week), initially for 1 year after which a go/no-go decision will be taken on extension with another three years. The gross salary in the first year is € 2191,- per month rising to € 2801,- in the fourth year for a full-time appointment.

More information

For more information about this position, please contact dr. Aalt-Jan van Dijk (, tel. +31 317 481123) or prof. Dick de Ridder (, tel. +31 317 484 074). For information on the selection procedure, please consult Ms. Dorien Wissink ( Applications can be submitted online, at; please do not mail material directly to the persons above.
The deadline for application is March 17th, 2017.

We are

Wageningen UR has a global reputation for its ground-breaking research and innovative education in the fields of food and health, sustainable agrosystems, the rural environment, and societal development - all of which make an essential contribution to the quality of life, i.e. the supply of safe and healthy food and drink, on the one hand, and the chance to live, work and play in a balanced ecosystem with a large variety of plants and animals on the other. Within Wageningen UR, the Plant Sciences Group brings together science education and scientific, strategic and applied research in the fields of biology, of plants in relation to their environment, of plant-related organisms and of plant production.
This project is a collaboration of the chair groups Bioinformatics and Plant Physiology.
The Bioinformatics Group focuses on fundamental and applied bioinformatics research in the green life sciences. In particular, we develop and apply novel computational methods for the analysis and integration of –omics data. The group has a strong track record in genomics, algorithm development and tool construction. Still growing, the group currently holds 5 faculty and approx. 20 PhD students and postdocs, as well as 10-15 MSc students at any given time.
At the Laboratory of Plant Physiology the processes are studied that plants use to cope with their abiotic and biotic environments throughout their life cycle, from seed and bulb to mature plant. Part of our group is investigating the role of secondary metabolism in plant physiology, with the aim to understand it, to control it and to deploy it in metabolic engineering of plants and microorganisms. The chair group consists of currently 8 faculty and 4 permanent technicians, 30 PhD students, postdocs, fixed-term technicians and guest researchers, and about 20 undergraduates from over 15 different countries. We teach a range of courses on various aspects of plant physiology for BSc and MSc students.