PhD Position in the Climate Resilient Crop Production

Catholic University of Leuven

The Climate Resilient Crop Production Laboratory investigates the impact of heat stress on molecular and cellular processes occurring during plant sexual reproduction. Since plant sexual reproduction is extremely sensitive to heat stress and is required to produce most of our food, better understanding heat stress responses in crops is highly relevant to improve crop resilience in a warming climate. Building on the basic knowledge acquired through our work, we devise genetic engineering approaches to generate crops with improved reproductive thermotolerance. The laboratory has a strong expertise in tomato research. It uses cell and molecular biology, genetic and ‘omics approaches to uncover responses to heat stress.


This project will examine the role of flavonols – plant specialized metabolites with potent in vitro antioxidant properties – in promoting pollen development and seed set during heat stress. Production of seed and fruit crops depends on successful sexual reproduction. Plant sexual reproduction involves development of pollen grains and delivery of sperm cells within the pollen grains to the female gametophyte through the growth of a pollen tube. Pollen development and tube growth are highly sensitive to heat stress. Increases in temperatures linked to climate change will thus undermine crop yields.

A hallmark of heat stress is increased generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Overaccumulation of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which impairs normal plant growth and development. However, localized production of basal ROS levels drives signaling pathways involved in normal plant developmental and physiological processes. To maintain ROS at levels conducive to signaling, plants use diverse enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidant machineries. Flavonols are a class of plant specialized metabolites with potent ROS scavenging activity. We previously reported that flavonols prevent ROS from reaching inhibitory levels at normal and increased temperatures, thereby promoting pollen viability and tube growth.

It is however largely unknown where and when ROS and flavonols are synthesized in developing pollen and surrounding tissues, if ROS and flavonol biosynthesis is regulated by heat stress in these tissues and if flavonols act as ROS scavengers during pollen development. You will study ROS and flavonol accumulation and biosynthetic pathways in response to heat stress in developing anthers and pollen grains. Using genetic and pharmacological approaches to manipulate the ROS and flavonol biosynthetic pathways, you will test how these compounds regulate pollen development in normal and heat stress conditions and if flavonols act as ROS scavengers in developing anthers and pollen grains. This project will be performed using the agriculturally important crop Solanum lycopersicum (tomato), for which molecular and genomic resources are well developed.


We are looking for a highly motivated and inquisitive PhD candidate, who has a strong interest in molecular and cell biology of plants. You are a critical thinker, work accurately, and are willing to learn new techniques. Relevant training or expertise in microscopy, molecular biology, and biochemistry is beneficial. You are required to have a European Master’s degree (or equivalent) in Bioscience Engineering, Biology, Biotechnology, Biochemistry or similar. You are eligible to apply for a PhD fellowship (e.g. FWO fellowship: or 


We offer a full-time PhD position for 1 year, which can be extended by 3 years after a positive evaluation (4 years in total). We are committed to offer scientific training that will prepare you for your desired career path (academia, industry, etc.). You will receive advanced training in cell and molecular biology of plants and heat stress physiology. You will also have opportunities to participate in national and international meetings. You are also strongly encouraged to follow extra-curricular courses provided by the Arenberg Doctoral School ( in support of your broader (non-)academic training. 


For more information please contact Prof. Dr. Joëlle Mühlemann, e-mail:

You can apply for this job no later than October 15, 2021 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: October 15, 2021
  • Tags: Biosystemen