PhD Position in Natural Science

University of Gothenburg Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences

PhD Student in Natural Science, specialising in Biology

Ref PAR 2021/661

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The University of Gothenburg tackles society’s challenges with diverse knowledge. 53 500 students and 6 500 employees make the university a large and inspiring place to work and study. Strong research and attractive study programmes attract scientists and students from around the world. With new knowledge and new perspectives, the University contributes to a better future.

At the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences (BioEnv) we have teaching and research activities that stretch from the alpine ecosystem, through forests, cultivated land and streams, all the way into the marine environment. In these environments we study different levels of biological organisation from genes, individuals and populations to communities and ecosystems. We work within ecology, evolution, physiology, systematics, and combinations of these fields to understand the impact of natural and anthropogenic changes of the environment.

The department is placed at three different localities: in Gothenburg Botanical garden, at Medicinarberget in Gothenburg and Kristineberg Marine Research Station. The current position is placed at Medicinarberget.

Project description - Can biopesticides provide evolutionarily sustainable pest control?

Pathogens provide some of the strongest selection pressures in nature, driving continual dynamic coevolutionary interactions with hosts. Because pathogens tend to show specificity in their ability to infect hosts, genetic variation for resistance to pathogens is typically high: any one host is unlikely to be able to resist all extant genotypes of pathogen circulating in a population. Host-pathogen coevolution is therefore key to fundamental questions about how selection shapes diversity, but it may also provide a tantalising solution to the long-standing problem of pesticide resistance evolution.

Insect pests consume 10-20% of globally produced food during growth or in storage, and therefore represent a substantial threat to global food security. Conventional pest control using synthetic pesticides can be problematic because it often conflicts with other sustainable development goals by damaging nontarget organisms and disrupting natural food webs. Moreover, in spite of intensive research and development, insects continue to evolve resistance to synthetic pesticides with predictable regularity, eluding even the most ingenious attempts to circumvent evolution. Populations of some pests, such as the cotton boll moth (Helicoverpa armigera), have evolved resistance to nearly all synthetic pesticides, and can quickly cause significant economic losses, while simultaneously prompting the overuse of ineffective chemicals by farmers who are desperate to control the damage.

Recently, we have proposed an innovative and evolutionarily sustainable approach to pest control that harnesses rather than resists the enormous evolutionary potential of pest populations. It relies on the observation that the performance of pest genotypes towards genetically complex challenges (e.g., the infective ability of pathogens and the similarly complex defences of host plants) depends strongly on environmental context. This suggests that we can preserve genetic diversity for susceptibility to biological agents by ensuring that pests experience different challenges (both in terms of fungal pathogens and host plants) at a landscape scale. However, while we have demonstrated this proof of concept, the long-term response of pest genetic architecture to constant or variable biopesticides remains unclear.

This PhD project can play a tremendous role in addressing one of the most wicked problems confronting sustainable development: the trade-off between abolishing hunger and preserving healthy environments. It will help clarify pressing but as yet unanswered questions about the long-term sustainability of evolutionarily sustainable pest control, while simultaneously shedding light on fundamental questions concerning host-pathogen evolution. The successful candidate will use a combination of quantitative genetic and laboratory evolution experiments to explore evolutionary changes in pest populations that are subject to variables levels of environmental heterogeneity. In addition, we will encourage the student to develop their own questions as the PhD develops, and to collaborate and conduct stakeholder outreach using our existing network in Sweden, Europe, South America and Africa.

Job assignments

The main task is to conduct the PhD thesis work under supervision, which includes development of the PhD student’s methodology experience, analytical skills, and theoretical depth and breadth. Techniques used within the project include quantitative genetic experiments, studies of laboratory evolution, microbiological infection assays, and methods associated with transdisciplinary work with stakeholders. The studies will be conducted mainly in the laboratory. Shorter periods may also be spent as field work in South America or Africa, where our research group has active collaborations with international researchers at universities, national research centers, not-for-profit organizations, and industrial partners. Specific research topics potentially associated with later parts of the research project include questions that transcend disciplinary boundaries, such as those concerning the logistics of biopesticide development, heterogeneous landscape management, the economic implications of producing or using diverse biocontrol products, and the social science of sustainable agriculture from farm to fork.

Third cycle education

Admission to third cycle education is aiming at a PhD in Natural Science, specializing Biology. The education runs for four years of fulltime studies, containing three years of thesis work and one year of academic education (i.e. course work and literature studies). A selection of courses at the Department/Faculty is available, but national/international courses can also be selected.  Some teaching and/or course administration can be included which extends the contract to the same extent.

Eligibility

To be eligible for third-cycle studies, the applicant must meet both the general and specific entry requirements. A person meets the general entry requirements for third-cycle courses and study programs if he/she:
1. has been awarded a second-cycle qualification, or
2. has satisfied the requirements for courses comprising at least 240 credits of which at least 60 credits were awarded in the second-cycle, or
3. has acquired substantially equivalent knowledge in some other way in Sweden or abroad.

To meet the specific entry requirements for third-cycle studies, applicants must:
1. have a second-cycle (advanced-level) degree in a relevant* subject area in the natural sciences, or
2. have completed studies for at least 60 higher education credits at a second-cycle level in relevant subject areas in the natural sciences, or
3. have completed a corresponding programme of relevance to the planned third-cycle programme, in Sweden or in another country, or have equivalent qualifications.

*Relevant subjects for the planned third-cycle education are evolutionary biology, ecology, quantitative or evolutionary genetics, entomology or biological control.

Assessments

Rules regarding education and employment on a doctoral level you will find in Högskoleförordningen (HF, SFS 1993:100). Only applicants who are admitted to the postgraduate level may be hired. Upon appointment the degree of ability to successfully complete the PhD program must firstly be evaluated.

We are seeking a motivated person for PhD studies in evolutionary biology with emphasis on evolutionary genetics or sustainable pest control.

Required characteristics:

  • A degree including training in evolutionary biology, quantitative genetics, biological control or a related biological or agricultural discipline.
  • Excellent organizational and data management skills that will allow the coordination of large laboratory experiments including thousands of subjects.
  • Strong quantitative skills or a demonstrable interest in developing these in order to learn and implement the advanced statistical models needed to estimate genetic variance and covariance parameters.
  • Excellent communication skills, both written and spoken, in English are necessary since we work in an international environment.

Desired characteristics:

  • A demonstrable ability to coordinate and integrate with a large team of researchers will facilitate working on ambitious experiments.
  • Experience with laboratory sterile microbiological techniques.
  • Self-motivation and ability to work autonomously for extended periods.
  • An ability to work flexible hours to facilitate coordination of research during labor-intensive experiments.
  • Advanced coding skills using R, possibly including mixed models using Bayesian approaches.

The application should be written in English and must include:

  • A short cover letter with the applicant’s justification for the application, i.e., that describes how the applicant meets the selection criteria
  • An attested list of qualifications (CV)
  • Examination certificates and a transcript of courses with grades
  • A copy of the Master thesis (or equivalent)
  • Employments certificates and other documents deemed important by the applicant

The top ranked candidates will be selected for an interview, which might be held in English and could also be performed by phone /Zoom.

How to apply

In order to apply for a position at the University of Gothenburg, you must register an account in our online recruitment system. It is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that the application is complete in accordance with the instructions in the job advertisement, and that it is submitted before the deadline. The selection of candidates is made based on the qualifications registered in the application.

The application must be received no later than:

For further information please contact

Luc Bussière, Senior Lecturer
Phone: +46 73 048 02 33
Email: luc.bussiere@bioenv.gu.se

Webpage: www.lucbussiere.com

Henrik Aronsson, Professor and Head of Department
Phone: +46 31 786 48 02
Email: henrik.aronsson@bioenv.gu.se

Unions

Union representatives at the University of Gothenburg:
https://www.gu.se/en/about-the-university/work-at-the-university-of-gothenburg/how-to-apply

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The University of Gothenburg promotes equal opportunities, equality and diversity.

Applications will be destroyed or returned (upon request) two years after the decision of employment has become final. Applications from the employed and from those who appeal the decision will not be returned.

In connection to this recruitment, we have already decided which recruitment channels we should use. We therefore decline further contact with vendors, recruitment and staffing companies.

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