PhD - A molecular ecology-based approach to optimally exploit the disease suppressive and biodiversity boosting potential of cover crops

Published on
January 9, 2019
Location Wageningen
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We are looking for

PhD position for 4 years Cover crops - plants that are typically grown in the time period between the main crops - are a main handle to maintain and improve the quality of soils. Cover crops are currently widely applied, as they are known to improve soil structure and prevent nutrient leaching. Next to these abiotic goals, cover crops have a major potential to lower the soil-borne disease pressure. However, a poorly-informed cover crop choice could increase soil-borne disease pressure dramatically. This project aims to provide information to end-users with regard to effects of cover crops on a selection of five notorious soil borne pathogens – three plant-parasitic nematodes and two pathogenic fungi. Soil is teeming with microbial life, and the presence of these biota could be exploited to manage the afore-mentioned soil borne pathogens. However, not all microbes that are present in the soil, are active. There is a large difference between the resident community – all organisms present in a soil – and the active community. Cover crops have the potential to boost soil microbial activity, thereby indirectly suppressing the soil-borne pathogens. In this project, we will pinpoint to ability of cover crops to activate and boost a relevant part of the soil microbial community. Within this project, the impact of cover crops – single species or mixtures – will be monitored in bulk soil by mapping the bacterial and the fungal community (i.e. the ‘primary decomposers’) as well as their primary consumers, bacterivorous and fungivorous nematodes and protists. This will be done at DNA (resident) and RNA (active) level. This relatively holistic approach is facilitated by fully exploiting the power of MiSeq sequencing. Such a holistic approach is attractive as it approximates the biological reality, but it is complex in terms of data management and analyses. Large data set will be generated and application of state-of-the-art bio-informatics tools will be key to the success of this approach. In short: This PhD trajectory is about discovering the short and long-term effects of cover crops on soil life in its full complexity, in a setting that allows translation of results into applications that contribute to sustainable use of fertile soils.

We ask

This position requires an excellent English language proficiency (a mininum of CEFR C1 level). For more information about this proficiency level, please visit our special language page. For this position, we are looking for an enthusiastic candidate with the following qualifications: - an MSc in biology or related – above-average level - a profound biological interest – a PhD is not ‘just a job’ – it is a (great) opportunity to develop yourself - experience with molecular (soil) ecology - a background in analysing complex biological community data is an advantage - experience with or affinity for (bio)informatics and/or statistics - well-developed writing skills in English - a team player, as this PhD project will be part of a larger project

We offer

We offer a full-time position (36 hours), initially for 12 months after which an evaluation will be made (go/no go moment). Gross salary per month € 2260,- in the first year rising to € 2890,- per month in the fourth year, for a fulltime appointment (36 hours – CAO DLO). Your application should include the following information: 1. An application letter explaining your motivation and aptitude for the position. 2. A detailed CV including personal details, academic training, work experience and a list of publications. Please also include language skills, computing and (academic) software skills. 3. Scanned copies of academic certificates (MSc) 4. Names and contact details (email address) of at least two references.

More information

Any enquiries on the position can be directed to Dr. Hans Helder ( and/or Prof. dr. Liesje Mommer; tel. +31 317 483136 (HH) / 4869 44 (LM). You can apply up and until 24th of January For this position, you can only apply on line:

We are

The mission of Wageningen University & Research is “To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life”. Within Wageningen University & Research, nine specialised research institutes from the Wageningen Research Foundation and Wageningen University have joined forces to help answer the most important questions in the domain of healthy food and living environment.

With approximately 30 locations, 5,000 employees, and 10,000 students, Wageningen University & Research is one of the leading organisations in its domain worldwide. An integrated approach to problems and the cooperation between various disciplines are at the heart of the unique approach of Wageningen.

For further information about working at Wageningen University & Research, take a look at the special career site. The current PhD position is embedded in a larger project that is supported by the Topsector T&U, a Dutch foundation sponsoring innovations in the domain of horticulture (T) and starting materials (U). This project is a combined initiative of Wageningen Research (Joeke Postma and Marleen Riemens), and Wageningen University (Liesje Mommer, Plant Ecology and Nature Conservation Group, and Hans Helder, Laboratory of Nematology). This research project is supported by a number of companies and institutions that are directly involved in promotion of the use of cover crops in arable farming as a major ingredient contributing to more sustainable soil management. The PhD candidate will be based at the Laboratory of Nematology, and supervised mainly by Hans Helder, and co-supervised by Liesje Mommer (promoter) and Joeke Postma. The Laboratory of Nematology is a flourishing research group within the Department of Plant Sciences of Wageningen University. In total about 35 people are current working at Nematology on 4 research themes: molecular ecology and evolution, nematode effectors in relation to animal and plant parasitism, host plant resistances, and Caenorhabitis elegans as a model for disease development and aging. The current vacancy resides under the theme ‘molecular ecology and evolution’.

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