PhD position in Plant Evolutionary Biology; Genetic basis of the cyanobacteria-hornwort symbiosis

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Department of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany
PhD position in Plant Evolutionary Biology; Genetic basis of the cyanobacteria-hornwort symbiosis
60 %

Plant symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria is a unique form of mutualistic association. However, very little is known about the genetic regulation in plant-cyanobacteria symbiosis. Most of the research has solely focused on the model cyanobiont Nostoc punctiforme, and how the plant partners initiate and maintain symbiosis still remains largely unknown. By leveraging the tractable systems established for both host (A. agrestis) and symbiont (N. punctiforme), this proposed research will take the first step to uncover the genetic underpinnings of plant-cyanobacteria symbiosis.
This project has two specific objectives, aiming to identify the metabolites and the genes that are essential for symbiosis. The first objective focuses on the putative chemical signals exchanged during symbiosis initiation - the hormogonium inducing factor from the plant. The exact identities of this signal have been unknown, but will be determined using comparative metabolomics, structural analyses combined with a large-scale forward genetic screen. The second objective is to dissect the genetic control of symbiotic association through time course RNA-seq experiments. A systems approach will be taken to discover and prioritize candidate genes from both partners, and their functional involvements validated by reverse genetics.
By integrating metabolomics, gene network analyses and genetic manipulations, this research will provide the first mechanistic overview on the interaction between hornworts and cyanobacteria, from the early communications to the symbiotic maintenance. The outcome will greatly complement what is known about plant interactions with rhizobia and AM fungi, and address whether the common symbiosis pathway also extends to cyanobacteria symbiosis.
Your responsibilities
This position is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation. The successful candidate have to comply with the requirements for obtaining a PhD in one of the associated PhD schools at the UZH. This, among others, includes carrying out independent research on the topic, writing up scientific publications, presenting her/his work on scientific conferences, taking courses offered by the UZH doctoral schools and contributing to teaching.
Your profile
Ideal candidates will have an MSc in biology with a specialization in evolution, developmental genetics and/or bioinformatics. This position primarily involves metabolomic, reverse genetic and bioinformatic work and requires advanced skills in handling, analyzing and interpreting high-throughput metabolomic, next-generation sequencing and RNA-seq data. Good skills in assembling vectors, carrying out genetic transformations and microscopy are also required. In case not all these skills are covered, the willingness to quickly acquire them is absolutely necessary. The student will closely work together with the second PhD student on this grant. Students should be willing to work both in the wet lab and in the office doing computational work. The position is initially for four years. Selected candidates will be enrolled in one of the two affiliated PhD schools in evolution or plant sciences.
What we offer
We offer varied and interesting work in an inspiring and socially relevant environment. Diversity and inclusion are important to us. The Dept. of Systematic Botany hosts research groups working on the evolutionary and ecological drivers of biodiversity, on the macroevolution of plants, on plant-insect interactions/pollination, on the evolution of mating systems, hybridization and speciation. The Dept. of Plant and Microbial Biology hosts many groups working on plant molecular and developmental biology, epigenetics, community genomics and plant adaptation. Both institutes are housed in the beautiful Botanical Gardens and host a diverse community of researchers in plant biology.
Place of work
Zollikerstr. 107, 8008 Zurich
Start of employment
April 2020
The position is opened until filled, but all application material including CV, a summary of research experience, a letter of motivation, copies of relevant publications (published or submitted) and names and contact information of three reference persons should be received by 18th Dec. 2019 to ensure full consideration. The position will start at the earliest possible date but it is negotiable (at the latest in April 2020). Candidates should indicate in a cover letter when they could take up the position.
Further information

PD Peter Szovenyi

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