Environmental Biology

Research area

Within the PhD programme Environmental Biology fundamental life processes of plants and microbes are studied at different organizational levels, from molecules and cells to plants, animal and entire ecosystems. The UN predict that the world population will increase to 9.6 billion people in 2050 and that feeding these people would require an increase in global food production of 70%. As the global acreage available for agriculture is limited and expansion of agricultural land will often go at the expense of natural habitat and biodiversity, an increase in food production efficiency is required. Meanwhile our climate is changing and the consequences for ecosystems are unclear. Plants, animals and microbes are essential components of our natural and agricultural environment and their interactions play a key role in the sustainability of life on Earth. The PhD programme Environmental Biology promotes understanding of functioning of ecosystems and of the individual organisms that build the ecosystems. Our interdisciplinary research program is focused on the biological mechanisms that determine how plants, animals and microbes adapt to their changing environment and how they interact with each other.

Research within this PhD programme often has a spin-off in applied sciences such as in plant breeding, livestock sciences, microbiological products, biotechnology, or management of natural resources. The PhD programme Environmental Biology participates in the Utrecht strategic themes Sustainability and Life Sciences and the focus area Future Food Utrecht.

Associated research groups

Information regarding our research groups from different departments and researchers is available on the websites of the groups.

Department of Biology, Institute of Environmental Biology

Department of Population Health Sciences, Animal in Science and Society

Profile of prospective PhD candidates

Prospective PhD candidates have a MSc in the area of plant biology, animal science, ecology, molecular biology or microbiology and are highly motivated to perform ground-breaking research at the international forefront of one of the above-mentioned research areas.

Mission of the training programme

The mission of the PhD programme is to organize and facilitate research and education for PhD candidates in the area of microbiology, plant, animal science and environmental biology. 

The aim of the programme is to train PhD candidates in a multidisciplinary environment to become highly qualified, independent researchers.

Central issues in the training programme are 1) the understanding of biological mechanisms that play a role in plant and microbial growth, development and adaptation to biotic and abiotic stress conditions and their role in survival; and 2) the understanding of ecological processes in plant and microbial ecosystem functioning and the effects of environmental change on this; and 3) the understanding of animal behaviour in nature and in agricultural livestock system and further applying these understanding to achieve better animal welfare and sustainable agriculture.

Major objectives of the PhD programme

  • To facilitate plant/animal/ecological/microbial biological research of high international standard on all levels of integration (from molecules to cells; from cells to whole plants; from health to welfare of animals, from individual plants and animals to ecosystems), resulting in a high-quality dissertation.

  • To organize and facilitate high-quality training and education for PhD candidates in the research area of plant, animal and environmental biology and microbiology, bringing together different expertise areas and monitoring the progress of the PhD candidates.

Training programme

The Environmental Biology research groups not only participate in the Graduate School of Life Sciences of the UU, but also in the Dutch national graduate schools Experimental Plant Sciences (EPS) and Production Ecology & Resource Conservation (PE&RC). Researchers from the Utrecht Environmental Biology groups are actively involved in the organization of specific PhD courses that are organized by these graduate schools. All PhD courses that are organized by the abovementioned national graduate schools are eligible for the PhD programme Environmental Biology. The national graduate schools offer an extensive range of research courses like the Summerschool Environmental signaling in plants, The power of RNA-Seq, Transcriptional regulation, Ecological modeling in R, Generalized linear models, Root ecology, Increasing photosynthesis in plants, and Workshop Metabolomics. For up-to-date lists of specialized courses please visit the schools’ respective websites.

Programme coordinator

Hao Zhang

Hao Zhang


More information about this programme

Visit the Environmental Biology website.

Institute of Environmental Biology