PhD position in Fungus-Animal Interactions (1.0 FTE)

Updated: about 2 months ago

PhD position in Fungus-Animal Interactions (1.0 FTE)

Job description

Infected animals often behave differently from healthy animals. These changes can involve precise manipulations caused by parasites to increase that parasite’s chances to spread. How exactly manipulative parasites can alter host behaviour is largely unknown. Uncovering the parasite compounds and host pathways involved could have both medical and agricultural applications through the discovery of novel drugs and holistic methods to battle insect pests. The behaviourally tractable “zombie ant system” has the potential to expose the mechanisms underlying parasitic behavioural manipulation and fundamentally transform perceptions of parasite-host interactions and their behavioural ecology effects. Our research group uses these fungus-infected “zombie ants” as a model to study disease progression, related behavioural phenotypes, and the mechanisms underlying those phenotypes. We love to push the boundaries when it comes to available techniques for this novel model system, so we often find ourselves adopting and creating new tools to answer our research questions.
The nature of the research that you will be involved in is naturally integrative. As such, your work will involve a variety of tasks spanning the fields of molecular microbiology, genetics, genomics, and behavioural ecology:

  • Apply gene-editing and other molecular microbiology and genetics technology to study the function of candidate manipulation compounds.
  • Produce and analyse genomics and transcriptomics datasets to reveal host pathways involved in altered behaviours.
  • Conduct infection and compound exposure experiments with a variety of invertebrate host organisms ranging from established model systems to ant colonies collected from nature.
  • Use quantitative behavioural tracking software and conducting statistical analyses to study disease-related behavioural phenotypes.
  • Participate in yearly field expeditions to Florida (USA) to collect carpenter ant colonies.


You fit well within our research team when you are ambitious, creative, and highly motivated. Next to that, you have a strong interest in parasite-host interactions, fungal biology and/or insect behaviour. It works in your favour if you have already developed good working knowledge in experimental design and statistics.
We would also like you to bring the following:

  • a Master’s degree with a background in molecular biology, genetics, microbiology or a related field;
  • prior experience with genomics or transcriptomics data generation and analysis (ideally, but not necessary);
  • prior experience with insect handling, collecting and husbandry (ideally, but not necessary, at the very least you are not squeamish around insects);
  • programming skills or the willingness to develop them;
  • great oral and written communication skills in English.

  • A full-time position for 4 years;
  • Enrolment in the PhD Programme Environmental Biology within the Graduate School of Life Sciences ;
  • A full-time gross salary starting at €2,443 in the first year and increasing to €3,122 in year four (scale P Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities (cao));
  • 8% holiday bonus and 8.3% end-of-year bonus;
  • A pension scheme, partially paid parental leave, and flexible employment conditions based on the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities.

In addition to the employment conditions laid down in the CAO for Dutch Universities, Utrecht University has a number of its own arrangements. For example, there are agreements on professional development, leave arrangements and sports. We also give you the opportunity to expand your terms of employment via the Employment Conditions Selection Model. This is how we like to encourage you to continue to grow.
More information about working at the Faculty of Science can be found here .

About the organization

The Department of Biology hosts a large number of research chairs, which are organized within two institutes: the Institute for Biodynamics and Biocomplexity (IBB) and the Institute of Environmental Biology (IEB). The Department of Biology coordinates the teaching of the Bachelor’s programme in Biology, as well as the Master’s programmes and PhD courses that are offered through the Graduate School of Life Sciences . Each Institute promotes the maintenance of a high-quality and interactive research environment.
Microbiology is embedded within the Institute of Environmental Biology (IEB) . The scientists at the IEB combine molecular biology, physiology and genomics with plant, animal, and microbial ecology at different organizational levels of life - from genes, cells and organisms to population communities and entire ecosystems. It is the ambition of the IEB to further develop national and international leadership in integrated biological studies of plants, microbes, and animals and to create a stimulating, competitive environment for talented young scientists.
This PhD position will be embedded in the Research group of Charissa de Bekker. This research group is currently located at the University of Central Florida . Starting September 1st 2022, Charissa de Bekker will continue the research activities within the Microbiology Division of Utrecht University. As such, the group will join the research groups within this division that study how fungi and bacteria interact with other organisms and their environment.
At the Faculty of Science , there are 6 departments to make a fundamental connection with: Biology, Chemistry, Information and Computing Sciences, Mathematics, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Physics. Each of these is made up of distinct institutes that work together to focus on answering some of humanity’s most pressing problems. More fundamental still are the individual research groups – the building blocks of our ambitious scientific projects. Find out more about us . 
Utrecht University is a friendly and ambitious university at the heart of an ancient city. We love to welcome new scientists to our city – a thriving cultural hub that is consistently rated as one of the world’s happiest cities. We are renowned for our innovative interdisciplinary research and our emphasis on inspirational research and excellent education. We are equally well-known for our informal atmosphere and the can-do mentality of our people. This lively and inspiring academic environment attracts professors, researchers and PhD candidates from all over the globe, making both the University and the Faculty of Science a vibrant international and wonderfully diverse community.

Additional information

If you have any questions regarding the position, please contact Charissa de Bekker , via
Do you have a question about the application procedure? Please send an email to .


Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. If you have the expertise and the experience to excel in this role, then simply apply using the “Apply now” button! Please enclose:

  • your letter of motivation, outlining your main contributions and research interests;
  • your Curriculum vitae;
  • the names, telephone numbers, and email addresses of at least two references;

The application deadline is 02/05/2022
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