PhD Position Genetic Insect Resistance for Sustainable Crop Protection

Updated: about 2 months ago
Deadline: 18 Oct 2021

The use of non-renewable resources is causing global-scale environmental problems, which threaten the stability of our planet earth. The safe operating space to maintain liveable conditions on earth has been formulated in the planetary boundaries, of which several are already overstepped. Many of these problems are caused by human interruptions of biogeochemical cycles of the biogenic elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur leading to the creation of waste.

Zero Waste is a part of the university-wide theme of Sustainable Prosperity presented in the University of Amsterdam’s (UvA) 2021-2026 strategic plan. With Zero Waste, the UvA Faculty of Science (FNWI) aims to contribute to alleviating these environmental problems resulting from the current linear use of resources by (re-)designing processes, materials, and products to keep materials in closed cycles while meeting our needs.

Zero Waste will strongly connect to education at the Faculty of Science, especially to the new BSc programme Science and Design that focusses on four interdisciplinary themes: 1) high-tech designer materials, 2) renewable energy and resources, 3) engineering life and health, and 4) information science, modelling and simulation. Six Science & Design Doctorates will form the start of the Zero Waste research theme. They will work together in physical proximity and intensive interaction to strengthen the common aspects of the projects, while researching a broad range of topics. Physically, research and demonstration activities and part of the research of the theme can be carried out in SustainaLab , the new Matrix ONE building at Amsterdam Science Park .

Insects and the viruses they carry can cause enormous losses in crop production systems world-wide, threatening food security. Traditionally, insects are combatted with heavy pesticides such as neonicotinoids. Approximately 3.5 million tons of pesticides are applied globally each year. These persistent chemicals however have severely negative impacts on ecosystems and pollute soils and groundwater. Hence many such chemicals are now being banned, leaving crop plants unprotected. Our approach towards a solution is a biotechnological one. Together with a leading vegetable breeding company we aim to re-arm crop plants by developing genetic insect resistant food crops. Exploiting the natural insect resistance still present in wild ancestors of our current day crops, we will add value by reducing crop (food) loss and contribute to a decreased reliance on chemical insecticides. The fundamental knowledge generated in this project will be converted into biochemical and molecular tools for directed breeding of a high-performance variety with added insect resistance. For this project we will explore insect resistance in wild ancestor species and profile the chemical composition in different species. We will apply a machine learning approach to select relevant features which will be validated using a variety of plant biotech approaches, including technologies like CRISPR-Cas, VIGS and advanced metabolomics.

What are you going to do

You are expected to:

  • perform high quality research in the field of plant biotechnology;
  • work independently but in close collaboration with other members of the team, including the industrial partner;
  • to be active and eager in research and constructive in collaborations;
  • to take part in scientific and social activities with other members of the research departments and the faculty;
  • actively contribute to the teaching of the new Science for Design Bachelor program and relevant programs.

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