PhD Position in Plant Genetics and Crop Improvement
Catholic University of Leuven Crop Biotechnics Division

Research in the laboratory of Plant Genetics & Crop Improvement (PGCI) at the Crop Biotechnics Division at KU Leuven is focused on the genetic control and molecular regulation of key processes in plant sexual reproduction, with a major focus on meiosis, recombination and ploidy stability. Fundamental insights in plant reproductive biology form a theoretical basis for the development of novel breeding methods and crop production strategies. By implementing the latest technologies on genomics and biotechnology, the PGCI lab aims to be at the forefront of plant genetics research with a finality to provide innovative solutions for sustainable agriculture and horticultural crop production.


Banana (Musa spp.) is an important staple food and cash crop in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa and other developing regions. However, due to the combined pressure of climate change and biotic stresses, its production has severely declined over the past three decades. The development of novel, climate-resilient, yet highly productive hybrid banana cultivars forms an important strategy to safeguard local food production and socio-economic welfare.  Genetic improvement of banana occurs via hybridization-based crossbreeding, however, the efficiency of this method is largely impaired by biological constraints operating at the reproductive level. Particularly the reduced fertilityof parental lines and the strongly depressed germination of resulting seeds constitute major barriers for banana hybrid breeding.


The aim of this project is to gain insights into the developmental alterations that restrict seed formation and germination efficiency in Musa cross-breeding programs. In this framework, the PhD candidate will extensively examine various processes during reproductive development (i.e. sporo- and gametogenesis, fertilization and seed development) using dedicated histological and cytological techniques. This includes quantitative analysis of meiotic stability and gametophytic genome integrity, accurate monitoring of pollen tube dynamics using 3D imaging, and qualitative assaying of embryo and endosperm development via combined histology and immunology. By performing this for different parental lines and various types of interploidy crosses, the PhD candidate will develop fundamental insights into the reproductive barriers that underpin low seed fertility in Musa spp. cross-breeding programs. 


This project is part of the large international research framework ‘Accelerated Breeding of Better Bananas (ABBB)’ that is instigated by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and that is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ( Overall, the ABBB program focuses on improving the production and productivity of banana in the East African highlands by developing novel banana cultivars and improving local crop management and disease control systems.


Interested  candidates must have a Master’s degree in Bioscience Engineering, Biology, Biotechnology, Engineering or an equivalent with good study results

(a minimum grade of distinction is required to initiate a PhD study program at KU Leuven).


Qualified candidates:

  • have strong theoretical knowledge of/or interest in plant biology, genetics, and crop breeding.
  • are highly motivated to perform scientific research at an academic level.
  • have strong communicative skills and are willing to present research results at international meetings, in peer-reviewed scientific journals,
  • via social media, and other communication channels.
  • are eager to take part in academic teaching activities.
  • are able to work independently, but also possess good teamwork skills.
  • are well-organized, flexible, critical-thinking and not afraid to take initiative.
  • are willing to supervise internship trainees and thesis projects.
  • have strong proficiency in the English language  (knowledge of Dutch is not required).


The successful candidate will be hired as a PhD research fellow in the laboratory of Plant Genetics and Crop Improvement (PGCI) under the supervision of Prof. Nico De Storme. We offer a full time job for 1 year that is extendable fort hree more years following positive evaluation at the end of the first year.  The intented start date of the project is June 1st, 2020.

We offer:

a high-profile research project with scientific potential and societal relevance.

an excellent and stimulating international research environment at a top-ranked university.

state-of-the-art facilities and technology platforms for studying plant genetics and biology.

the opportunity to live in the beautiful medieval university town of Leuven.



For more information please contact Prof. dr. Nico De Storme, tel.: +32 16 19 33 52, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than April 05, 2020 via the
KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at

  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: April 5, 2020
  • Tags: Biosystemen

If you apply for this position please say you saw it on Bioloxy


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