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PhD position: exploring genome dominance and genetic networks as drivers for polyploidy breeding

Closing date
21 Aug 2024

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Life Science
Job Type
PhD Position
Employment - Hours
Full time
Professional certification

Job Details

For the Van de Peer Lab (Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Genomics), in collaboration with the Flemish Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (ILVO) - Plant Sciences Unit, we are looking for a m/f/x doctoral fellow.

About the project Global climate change will challenge the productivity of major agricultural crops. Therefore, more resilient crops are required to secure sufficient food production worldwide. To create plants with desired productivity and better environmental stress tolerance, strategies such as genome doubling of agriculturally important crops and generating hybrids hold great promise. Yet, just how a plant manages to maintain a double set of chromosomes and how all alleles interact in dynamic genetic networks to create more phenotypic plasticity remains poorly understood.

This fully funded PhD project is part of the Methusalem project granted to Prof. Yves Van de Peer and aims to gain a deeper understanding of polyploidy through genomics, experimental evolution, modeling, and artificial intelligence. Partner institute ILVO explores the benefits of polyploidization in crop breeding by studying genome doubling and interspecific hybrids.

More specifically, this PhD project focuses on species of the nutritious Lolium ryegrass, the drought-tolerant Festuca fescue, the interspecific Lolium hybrids and the intergeneric hybrid Festulolium that combines the parental agronomical traits. Bringing the divergent genomes together widens the range of possible responses to environmental stresses and thus increases the adaptability to new, extreme conditions. However, it also leads to plants with unstable genomes and subsequent elimination of chromosomal fragments over generations, hampering the breeding of superior cultivars. This project aims to unravel the underlying molecular mechanisms driving genome dominance and chromosome elimination in hybrids at different ploidy levels using genomics and transcriptomics together with specialized phenotyping.

About your job In this project, you will investigate the phenotypic, physiological, and molecular response of interspecific, tetraploid hybrids and their diploid parents in drought experiments and yield trials. Experiments will span the range from single cells to plant populations at the field level, with both fundamental research questions and direct practical applications in plant breeding, through an interdisciplinary approach. You will collect genomic data with high throughput sequencing (HTS) methods, and combine it with phenotypic field observations. Additionally, you will apply molecular markers to study genome constitution and perform single-cell RNA-Seq experiments to study differential gene expression networks. You will apply innovative data analysis workflows to integrate single-cell genotyping with shifts in gene regulatory networks and understand how genome constitution drives phenotypic diversity at the cell, organ, plant, and population levels. You will report the scientific findings through academic publications as well as presentations on (inter)national events.

This project offers the applicant flexibility according to their own interests and a diverse set of learning opportunities within wet lab procedures and bio-informatics. The goal is to obtain a doctoral degree at the end of the research period. The work is performed at ILVO in Melle, a unique and transdisciplinary research institute with an open atmosphere where you will be embedded in a team of fellow PhD students, technicians, and field workers. Finally, the close collaboration with the researchers and plant breeders at ILVO and the interaction with the Van de Peer research group at UGent/VIB offers the applicant the opportunity to develop a broad scientific network.

  • You have a keen interest in applied plant research and in combining wet-lab experiments with bio-informatics.
  • Practical experience in a molecular lab and/or HTS data analysis/bio-informatics expertise is strongly recommended.
  • You have programming skills in Python or another scripting language, or you are willing to learn it.
  • You have good communication and writing skills and have an excellent knowledge of written and spoken English.
  • You are highly motivated, enthusiastic and self-critical. You work with attention to detail, and you have an open mindset to learn new skills.
  • You combine being a team player with a strong sense of autonomy and responsibility.
  • You are willing to apply for additional funding when eligible.
  • You are willing to participate in the training and supervision of graduate students.
We offer
  • A full-time PhD scholarship of 4 years (starting with 1 year that can be extended with another three years after positive evaluation).
  • Your appointment will start by 01/10/2024 at the earliest.
  • You will receive a PhD scholarship according to the general conditions at Ghent University. The tax-free scholarship includes full social security coverage. More information on the PhD scholarship can be found on the Ghent University website.
  • A multitude of training opportunities organized at Ghent University, VIB and ILVO to broaden your expertise and skill-set.
  • You will work in a dynamic research group in a multidisciplinary research institute. All Ghent University staff members enjoy several benefits, such as 36 days of paid leave, bicycle commuting reimbursement, etc.
How to apply?  Please complete the online application procedure and include a detailed CV, a letter of motivation and the contact details of two referees no later than August 21st, 2024.

For more information about this vacancy please contact Prof. dr. Tom Ruttink or dr. Marlies Peeters (; Selected candidates will be informed no later than August 28th. Interviews will be held in the second week of September.


VIB’s core mission is to generate disruptive insights in the molecular underpinning of life and to translate these actively into impactful innovations for patients and society. VIB is an independent research institute where some 1,800 top scientists from Belgium and abroad conduct pioneering basic research. As such, they are pushing the boundaries of what we know about molecular mechanisms and how they rule living organisms such as human beings, animals, plants, and microorganisms. Based on a close partnership with five Flemish universities – Ghent University, KU Leuven, University of Antwerp, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and Hasselt University – and supported by a solid funding program, VIB unites the expertise of all its collaborators and research groups in a single institute. VIB’s technology transfer activities translate research results into concrete benefits for society such as new diagnostics and therapies and agricultural innovations. These applications are often developed by young start-ups from VIB or through collaborations with other companies. This also leads to additional employment and bridges the gap between scientific research and entrepreneurship. VIB also engages actively in the public debate on biotechnology by developing and disseminating a wide range of science-based information. 

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