PhD position: Interaction between tsetse fly-associated covert viruses and endosymbionts

Published on
November 29, 2019
Location Wageningen
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We are looking for

  • Are you intrigued by viruses and endosymbionts, and how these might mutually interact and affect the immune system of the host?
  • Do you want to contribute to the control of trypanosomiasis via Sterile Insect Techniques?
  • Do you like to work in an inspiring, innovative European training network to assist the upcoming industry of insect mass rearing?
Tsetse flies transmit trypanosomes to humans and their cattle and are controlled in Sub-Saharan Africa via the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). For this purpose, large scale rearing of tsetse flies (Glossina pallidipes) is needed to produce sufficient amounts of sterile male flies. In recent years, a virus pathogenic to the reared tsetse flies, the salivary gland hypertrophy virus (SGHV), has caused the collapse of the rearing colonies of these flies due to the reproductive defects induced by this virus. SGHV can be present in an asymptomatic, sublethal state, and may be controlled by the fly’s defence system, such as RNAi based immunity. Endosymbionts (Wigglesworthia, Sodalis and/or Wolbachia) may play an important role herein, by modulating the fly’s immune system and trans-generational transmission of the virus. The research questions in this project are: 1) How does the SGHV infection progresses from an asymptomatic infection to an overt symptomatic infection? 2) What is the role is of the microbiome and the host immune system in this process? 3) How do the presence of the viral infection and the endosymbionts affect the vector competence for trypanosomes?

This PhD candidate will follow a double degree programme and will be enrolled in Wageningen University (NL) and the University of Exeter (UK). At least 15 months will be spent at the Insect Pest Control (IPC) Laboratory in Seibersdorf, near Vienna (AU), as that is where the life tsetse flies can be studied, and 6 months are scheduler in Exeter at the Penryn campus.

The PhD position you are applying for is part of a large Double Degree Programme called INSECT DOCTORS, funded by the European Commission. The overall aim of the INSECT DOCTORS’ training programme is to educate a new generation of scientist that have in-depth knowledge on insect pathogens, as well as the skills to assist the upcoming industry of insect mass rearing to prevent disease outbreaks in their insect cultures.

In total, 15 PhD positions are available in this programme, and each PhD candidate will be enrolled at two universities in different European countries. Each PhD candidate will have his/her own research project involving stays in at least two countries. Several novel PhD courses will be offered to all PhD candidates of INSECT DOCTORS. Start dates for all these PhD positions are scheduled for April/May 2020. To learn more about the training network please visit our website:

We ask

In order to be eligible for a place within INSECT DOCTORS, strict rules are set out by the European Commission. So please make sure you comply with these rules when applying.

  • You must be an Early-Stage Researcher (ESR), meaning that at the day of your recruitment (= start date of your contract) you must be in the first four years (full-time equivalent research experience) of your research career, after obtaining your MSc degree.
  • You have not been awarded a doctoral degree before.
  • Mobility Rule: You must not have resided or carried out your main activity (work, studies, etc.) in the country of the recruiting organisation for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately before the day of your recruitment. For this particular PhD position the country of the recruiting organisation is the Netherlands. Compulsory national service, short stays such as holidays, and time spent as part of a procedure for obtaining refugee status under the Geneva Convention 1, are not taken into account.
Please note, that these rules are not negotiable.

Furthermore we are looking for a candidate with:
  • A Master degree in a relevant field (Biology, Molecular Life Sciences, Biotechnology).
  • Experience in molecular biological research and a proven ability to organize laboratory experiments. We especially invite candidates with practical experience in Entomology and Virology/Microbiology to respond.
  • Ability to work in an international research team in a collaborative spirit, and eagerness to participate in the INSECT DOCTORS training program.
  • A flexible attitude is needed to make this project a success, as you will need to study and carry out research in three European Countries: the Netherlands, Austria and the United Kingdom. 
  • Proficiency in the English language (both written and spoken) is required. 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.
  • Please check your eligibility based on the rules set by the European Commission (see above).

We offer

  • A full-time PhD position (38 hours) for four years, with a go-no-go decision for continuation after one year.
  • A double degree PhD programme involving Wageningen University (NL) and the University of Exeter (UK).
  • You will be hosted by the Laboratory of Virology in Wageningen, the Netherlands. To be able to carry out this project and obtain all the necessary skills, you will stay 15 months near Vienna (AU) and 6 months Exeter (UK).
  • As a PhD candidate, you will participate in the INSECT DOCTORS training program. Additional courses, tailored to your desires and those of the supervising team, will be offered via the Graduate School Production Ecology and Resource Conservation, and the University of Exeter. Relevant courses in Vienna can also be taken up in your training program.
  • A bus connection between Vienna and Seibersdorf is offered by the FAO/IAEA joint research unit on Food and Nutrition, to which the IPC laboratory belongs.
A challenging position with a gross salary per month of € 2.325,= in the first year, building op to € 2.972,= in the 4th year for a full working week of 38 hours in accordance with the Collective Labor Agreement Dutch Universities.

More information

For more information about this function, please contact Monique van Oers, Professor of Virology, 0317-485082 or by e-mail:
In Seibersdorf you will be supervised by Prof Dr Adly Abd Alla and in Exeter by Dr Ben Raymond

For more information about the procedure, please contact
General information about the Laboratory of Virology can be found at

This vacancy is open until January 10, 2020.
You can only apply online through:

Please indicate in your motivation letter why you are particularly interested in this project and whether you have applied or intend to apply for other PhD positions in the INSECT DOCTORS network.

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, 6,000 employees, and 12,000 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.

Equal opportunities employer
We are an equal opportunities employer and welcome applications from all suitably qualified persons regardless of their race, sex, disability, religion/belief, sexual orientation or age.

The Laboratory of Virology is part of the Plant Sciences Group of Wageningen University and is situated at the Wageningen Campus. Currently, about 25 researchers, including technicians, PhD students and Postdocs are employed at the Laboratory of Virology and contribute to a lively, research-driven work environment. Research at the Laboratory of Virology concentrates on various animal-, insect- and plant viruses, with special attention on virus-host and virus-vector interactions. We focus on defence mechanisms, viral evasion strategies, covert virus infections and host manipulation mechanisms. Plant viruses form a major threat for crops and ornamentals and are often transmitted by insect vectors. Arboviruses are transmitted by insects as well and cause disease in humans and animals. Insect-infecting viruses on the other hand are pathogenic to insects and form a threat to natural populations and mass reared insects. In addition, insect viruses are used to control pest insects and in biotechnology to produce recombinant proteins for instance for vaccines.

The University of Exeter’s Penryn campus is set in an area of outstanding natural beauty next to the Fal estuary in Cornwall and is home to a lively student community from science, engineering, humanities and arts backgrounds It hosts 55 academics in the biological sciences as well as a larger number of Phd students and post-doctoral researchers. We have particular strengths in entomology, animal behaviour evolutionary biology and microbial ecology. Dr Raymond’s group focuses insect microbe interactions.

The Insect Pest Control Laboratory (IPCL) is part of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, Vienna, Austria. The IPCL was established more than 55 years ago and focused on the development and the implementation of SIT programmes and related technologies. The IPCL located in International Atomic Energy Agency laboratories in Seibersdorf and fully equipped with training capacity for fellowships, MSc and PhD students from the IAEA Member States. The IPCL have unique collection of insect strains from all around the world including Fruit flies, Mosquito and tsetse fly.

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