PhD - SWEETMUNITY: Structural and molecular bases of glycans perception by the innate immune...

Updated: 2 months ago
Job Type: FullTime
Deadline: 10 Jan 2022

La Caixa INPhINIT Incoming Fellowships are dedicated and offered to early-stage researchers of any nationality to pursue their PhD studies in research centers accredited with the Spanish Seal of Excellence Severo Ochoa, María de Maeztu or Health Institute Carlos III and Portuguese units participating in the program.

  • 3 years contract

  • Candidates cannot have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in Spain for more than twelve months in the three years immediately prior to the deadline for application.

  • Program includes a training programme on transversal skills aiming in widening the chances for personal development, not only in academia, but also in industry.

  • Candidates must be in the first four years of their research career and must not have previously obtained a PhD degree or be in a position to apply for one

  • Candidates must accredit an advanced level of English (B2 or higher)

  • Competitive salary with additional amount for research costs and a €7500 prize for fellows who deposit the thesis within 6 months after the third year of the fellowship has ended

Research Project / Research Group Description

Plants and animals have evolutionary developed a repertoire of monitoring systems to sense carbohydrate-based structures (glycans) derived either from the cell walls of microorganisms (non-self-glycans) they are exposed to, or from glycan self-structures that are released from plant cell walls or animal extracellular matrixes upon tissue damaged caused by pathogens or injury. These non-self and self-glycan ligands (Pathogen- and Damaged Associated Molecular Patterns (PAMPs/DAMPs), respectively) are perceived by specific plasma-membrane anchored receptors (e.g. Toll-like Receptors (TLRs) from mammals or Pattern Recognition Receptors (PRRs) from plants), that upon binding trigger immune responses leading to disease resistance or anti-inflammatory responses. Our current understanding of the structural and molecular bases of glycans recognition by TLRs/PRRs is very scarce. In this project we intend to develop computational methods based on molecular dynamics for prediction of specific receptor-glycan pairs interactions, and to characterize the bases of this receptor/glycan recognition by combining in silico, in vitro and in vivo approaches. The results of these project will provide unprecedented structural data on glycan/receptor recognition and the bases for the rational design of novel glycan-based drugs/biologicals (glyco-mimetics) that will be more efficient in the activation of the immunes systems of mammals and plants (crops). The project will contribute to the generation of novel immunotherapies for mammals and novel natural-based technologies (biostimulants) for a more sustainable agricultural. The Group of Dr. Molina is internationally recognized by its contributions to the characterization of cell walls (plant and microorganisms) function in the regulation of plant/crops immunity. This group has identified, patented and commercialized several glycoligands that regulate crop protection.

Job position description

The PhD student will integrate in a multidisciplinary group with expertise in different aspects of plant immunity and crop resistance to pathogens (see group web site link). The Molina group is seeking for a very motivated PhD student that could have either expertise in computational structural biology/bioinformatics or in molecular biology/biotechnology. In the first case, the objective will be to develop an advanced version of in silico computational structural model, based on molecular dynamics for the analysis of Receptor/glycoligand binding predictions, that the group has developed (del Hierro et al., Plant Journal, 2021). In the second profile case (expertise in molecular biology/biotechnology) the aim of the PhD student will be to use molecular, biochemical and genetic approaches (e.g. Arabidopsis mutant screenings) to identify genes encoding PRRs perceiving glycoligands and to characterizetheir mode of action and potential activity in crops. In plants (e.g. Arabidopsis) we have estimated that more than 55% of  PRRs might bind glycans, but just a few of them have recognized glycoligand associated (del Hierro et al., Plant Journal 2001). This project represents a unique opportunity to identify novel glycoligands that could be used for enhancing mammal immune system and crop protection. The PhD student will have the opportunity to interact with several international collaborators (e.g. PhD international stages) of Dr. Molina group with expertise in mammal immunity regulated by glycoligands, in silico synthesis of glycoligands, and structural biology of PRRs (see additional web sites).  The PhD will be integrated in a group with a very activity of Translational Biology an innovation (see additional web sites). 


Web page of the Centre of Excellence Severo Ochoa, Centro de Biotecnologia y Genómica de Plantas (CBGP, UPM-INIA).

Group of Computational Chemical Biology

Regulation and function of pro-inflamatory mediators in inflammatory and immunological diseases

Plant Response Inc (joint venture of Plant Response Biotech SL, spin-off of CBGP).


Prof. Antonio Molina


Plant Innate Immunity and Resistance to Necrotrophic Fungi (Research Group at CBGP (UPM-INIA))

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