PhD position Genetics of Disease Resistance in Lettuce

Published on
June 9, 2021
Location Wageningen
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We are looking for

Always wanted to know why plants are resistant to almost all and thus a nonhost for most diseases? Then now there is a challenging project in which you can explore a rare susceptible variant of a nonhost species to discover its underlying gene and mechanism of resistance. Do you want to contribute to improving our knowledge of immunity from a crop-wild relative of lettuce? Please read on, and apply!

We are looking for an enthusiastic and highly motivated PhD student to work on resistance against downy mildew in the wild lettuce species, Lactuca saligna.

You will be resolving the genetics of a rare susceptible phenotype in a nonhost species. Downy mildew is a notorious disease for the crop lettuce, Lactuca sativa. The crop-wild relative, Lactuca saligna, is completely resistant to downy mildew and considered a nonhost species. L. saligna and L. sativa have a fascinating evolutionary relationship, as they diverged about 3 Million years ago, but can still be crossed. Previous interspecific mapping attempts (cross L. saligna x L. sativa) for complete resistance were hindered partly by reproductive barriers and showed a complex inheritance of the resistance. A different opportunity to explore immunity in the species L. saligna presents itself in the exceptional existence of a rare susceptible variant. We like to explore this rare variant and answer the following questions: What gene and mechanism causes this susceptibility ? How can we use this information to identify or design a gene variant(s) resulting in resistance in the crop lettuce?
For this you will use: intraspecific mapping populations of L. saligna (cross of rare susceptible variant x resistant variant), genotype-phenotype analysis, genetic mapping techniques and potentially allele mining and molecular techniques for functional analysis.
In consultation with our team members of the LettuceKnow subtheme resilience-immunity (see below), other related leads from an analysis of genome-wide association mapping panel of ~500 lettuce lines, may also be explored.

About the LettuceKnow research program
The project is embedded in the subtheme resilience-immunity of the LettuceKnow (see below for more information and the website for additional vacancies). You will join a team of 18 PhD students, post-docs and technicians working in Utrecht, Wageningen and Leiden.

LettuceKnow (a NWO-TTW perspective program) started in 2019 to investigate key resilience and architecture traits of lettuce. Lettuce is an important component of a healthy diet with an extensive global use. The project aims to identify molecular mechanisms and genes for resilience and architecture. The basis for this is the combination of large-scale transcriptomics of a diversity panels of 500 wild and cultivated Lactuca accessions, cutting-edge phenotyping, powerful integrative bioinformatics & machine learning, and state-of-the-art plant biology. The LettuceKnow team brings together leading scientists in the areas of plant biology, genomics and data sciences to enable the optimal use of big data and discover the genes/alleles underlying important traits. It comprises a diverse research community with a strong focus on resolving major challenges for Dutch lettuce breeders to develop resilient and sustainable varieties that are adapted to changing climate conditions.

We ask

  • You have an MSc degree in Plant sciences, Plant biology, Plant biotechnology, or alike, (or you can obtain such a degree before the starting date of your Ph.D. project)
  • You have a strong interest in experimental plant research, genetics, disease resistance, plant phenotyping and plant breeding
  • You have hands-on experience in molecular and quantitative genetics, especially genetic mapping, and in analysing genomic data sets
  • You work in an accurate and efficient way, and you are highly motivated to do science
  • You are a team player who can also work independently
  • You have excellent communication skills, both oral and written.
  • You have a very good level of oral and written English. You are required to show us a certification of English skills. For more information about the required level please take a look at:;

We offer

Wageningen University & Research offers excellent terms of employment. A few highlights from our Collective Labour Agreement include:
• sabbatical leave, study leave, and paid parental leave;
• working hours that can be discussed and arranged so that they allow for the best possible work-life balance;
• the option to accrue additional flexible hours by working more, up to 40 hours per week;
• there is a strong focus on vitality and you can make use of the sports facilities available on campus for a small fee;
• a fixed December bonus of 8.3%;
• excellent pension scheme.

In addition to these first-rate employee benefits, you will receive a fully funded PhD position and you will be offered a course program tailored to your needs and the research team.

In principle this is a PhD position starting between Oct 1 and Dec 1, or at the earliest convenience. We offer you a temporary contract for 12 months which will be extended with three years if you perform well (after go/no go evaluation). Salary will increase from € 2395,- gross per month in the first year up to € 3061,- in the last year, based on a full-time appointment (38 hours per week). (A contract for 0.8 FTE can be discussed.)

The PhD student will also participate in the graduate school Experimental Plant Sciences of WUR, which offers opportunities for courses supporting scientific as well as personal and professional development

You are going to work at the greenest and most innovative campus in Holland, and at a university that has been chosen as the “Best University” in the Netherlands for the 16th consecutive time.

Coming from abroad Wageningen
University & Research is the university and research centre for life sciences. The themes we deal with are relevant to everyone around the world and Wageningen, therefore, has a large international community and a lot to offer to international employees.

Applicants from abroad moving to the Netherlands may qualify for a special tax relief, known as the 30% ruling. Our team of advisors on Dutch immigration procedures will help you with the visa application procedures for yourself and, if applicable, for your family.

Feeling welcome also has everything to do with being well informed. Wageningen University & Research's International Community page contains practical information about what we can do to support international employees and students coming to Wageningen.

Furthermore, we can assist you with any additional advice and information about helping your partner to find a job, housing, schooling, and other issues.

More information

For more information about this function, please contact Marieke Jeuken, telephone +31-317-484157 or by e-mail

For more information about the procedure, please contact
General information about the Plant Breeding can be found on

Do you want to apply?
You can apply directly using the apply button on the vacancy page on our website which will allow us to process your personal information with your approval.

This vacancy will be listed up to and including Sunday 4th July 2021.
We hope to schedule the first job interviews in the following weeks.
Anticipated start date is between Oct 1 and Dec 1, 2021

Please submit a cv and cover letter including names of two references.

We are

The mission of Wageningen University and Research is “To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life”. Under the banner Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen University and the specialised research institutes of the Wageningen Research Foundation have joined forces in contributing to finding solutions to important questions in the domain of healthy food and living environment.

With its roughly 30 branches, 6.500 employees and 12.500 students, Wageningen University & Research is one of the leading organisations in its domain. An integrated approach to problems and the cooperation between various disciplines are at the heart of Wageningen’s unique approach. WUR has been named Best Employer in the Education category for 2019-2020.

These are the points our employees list as good reasons to come work at WUR: read the 5 reasons to come work at WUR.

Plant Breeding and The Graduate School Experimental Plant Sciences 
The PhD position will be under the supervision of Dr Marieke Jeuken (daily supervisor) and promoter  Prof. Richard Visser at Plant Breeding, Wageningen University & Research. Plant Breeding is a merged unit of Wageningen Research and Wageningen University with around 200 people including MSc and PhD students and guest workers. It is a highly international group with more than 50 nationalities organised in ten research groups. We conduct fundamental, strategic and applied research and provide teaching at all educational (BSc, MSc and PhD) levels. Our research focusses on unravelling the genetic basis of traits which are relevant to achieve a sustainable agri- and horticulture. We conduct this research often together or in partnership with breeding companies, local, regional and state governments.

The position will be part of the Dutch inter-university Graduate School Experimental Plant Sciences (EPS). The mission of EPS is to organize the training of PhD students and postdocs to become self-reliant researchers.

We will recruit for the vacancy ourselves, so no employment agencies please. However, sharing in your network is appreciated.

Apply now