PhD position: Developing 'attract-and-infect' strategies against the Fall Armyworm in Africa

Gepubliceerd op
5 augustus 2019
Locatie Wageningen
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We are looking for

  • Do you want to join a collaborative project to find answers to the challenges of the world in agriculture, healthy food and the living environment?
  • Do you want to use your passion for sustainability, biological control and fundamental and applied biology as a PhD researcher?
  • Are you a connecting person who collaborates with researchers, (inter)national organizations and local farmers in an ambitious research program?
The Fall Armyworm (FAW) Spodoptera frugiperda, a major pest in staple crops in North and South America, recently invaded Africa (first reported in 2016), where it is currently spreading with incredible speed. Currently, control of this pest insect mainly depends on chemical insecticides. Apart from being very expensive for most small-scale African farmers, these insecticides also pose a genuine health risk, since the knowledge and equipment required for a safe application are mostly lacking. Chemical insecticides negatively affect the environment and non-target species and, in addition, resistance towards these insecticides has already been reported. Therefore, there is a urgent need for safe, sustainable, environmental friendly alternative control measures that can be easily applied in the field by local farmers. Biological control methods that are currently used to control lepidopteran insect pests include pheromone trapping (trapping male moths using female pheromones) and the spraying of baculoviruses (killing caterpillars). However, a combination of both methods has not been explored, and might yield exciting opportunities for biological control, surpassing the effectiveness of each single method. This project aims to develop a sustainable attract-and-infect strategy for the control of the invading fall army worm in Africa.

The project involves two PhD students that will work together to 1) Develop an African – European network of researchers and farmers (PhD1, PhD2 and supervisors); 2) Develop a successful attract strategy by studying and employing the local sex Spodoptera pheromone signatures (PhD1, supervised by Prof. Groot – University of Amsterdam (UvA)); 3) Develop a successful infect strategy using viruses that specifically kill S. frugiperda larvae (PhD2, supervised by Dr. Ros – WUR); 4) Combine and disseminate the developed attract & infect strategy, enabling implementation by local farmers (PhD1 and PhD2 under joint supervision).

The current vacancy posted here concerns PhD2; PhD1 will be recruited through the UvA website. PhD2 will:
  • help to further develop an intensive network with research groups from icipe (Kenya), IITA (Benin and Togo), and through these local partners, with the farmers in these regions;
  • collect larvae from different field sites to rear these to adults for lab and field experiments;
  • isolate and test baculovirus isolates against S. frugiperda caterpillars;
  • perform comparative genomics analysis for virus strains differing in host specificity and pathogenicity;
  • optimize the effectivity of biological control using baculoviruses;
  • together with PhD1 develop an optimized attract-and-infect strategy;
  • be willing to spend at least half the time at field stations in East and West Africa;
  • be communicative to all involved academic, industrial and farming partners.

We ask

  • An MSc degree in a Biology or a related field, with experience in virology, entomology and/or biological control.
  • Experience with field work.
  • Experience with molecular biological techniques, a proven ability to organize laboratory experiments and an affinity to work with insects.
  • Skills in experimental design, statistical analysis and genome/sequence analysis.
  • Proficiency in scientific writing and communication.
  • Ability to work in an international research team in a collaborative spirit.
  • Fluency in English, both written and spoken. 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.
  • Proficient in French (at least spoken).
  • Willingness to assist in the education of BSc and MSc students.

We offer

A challenging position, for 38 hours/week for four years, with a go-no-go decision for continuation after one year. Gross salary per month is € 2.325,= in the first year, building op to €2.972,= in the 4th year, for a fulltime appointment, in accordance with the Collective Labor Agreement Dutch Universities (Function scale P).

In addition, we offer: 

  • 8% holiday allowance; 
  • a structural year-end bonus of 8.3%;
  • excellent training opportunities and secondary employment conditions;
  • flexible working hours and holidays can possibly be determined in consultation so that an optimal balance between work and private life is possible;
  • excellent pension plan through ABP;
  • 232 vacation hours, the option to purchase extra and good supplementary leave schemes;
  • a choice model to put together part of your employment conditions yourself, such as a bicycle plan;
  • a lively workplace where you can easily make contacts and where many activities take place on the Wageningen Campus. A place where education, research and business are represented;
Wageningen University & Research stimulates internal career opportunities and mobility with an internal recruitment policy. There are ample opportunities for own initiative in a learning environment. We offer a versatile job in an international environment with varied activities in a pleasant and open working atmosphere.
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.

More information

For more information about this function, please contact Vera Ros, Assistant Professor Laboratory of Virology, +31-317-484461 or by e-mail;
For more information about the procedure, please contact
General information about the Laboratory of Virology can be found on

This vacancy is open up to and including September 15, 2019.
The first job interviews will take place in the week of September 22, 2019

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 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 is focussed at various animal-, insect- and plant viruses. 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 are used to control pest insects. Insect viruses are also in use biotechnologically to produce recombinant proteins for instance for vaccines. Our research concentrates on virus-host and virus-vector interactions, with special attention for defence mechanisms, viral evasion strategies, biological control and host manipulation mechanisms.  

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