PhD position in pattern-triggered immunity in lettuce (1.0 FTE)

Hours per week: 
38 to 40
Faculty of Science
Department of Biology, Plant-Microbe Interactions
Application deadline: 

Job description

Are you interested to understand what mechanisms plants have evolved to defend themselves against pathogen infection? We have a great project for you to explore exciting aspects of the lettuce immune system in the subtheme resilience of the LettuceKnow program (see below for more information and the website for additional vacancies). You will join a team of 18 PhD students, post-docs, and technicians working in Utrecht, Wageningen, and Leiden.

The activity and function of the lettuce immune system are poorly understood at the molecular level. In this four-year project, you will discover how lettuce detects microbes via surface immune receptors, activates immune signaling, and executes effective defense responses. This is particularly important to combat the most important lettuce disease: downy mildew caused by Bremia lactucae. For that, you will leverage a genome-wide association mapping panel of ~500 domesticated and wild lettuce lines, their gene expression profiles, CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing, and the genetic transformation of lettuce. The unique LettuceKnow expertise in analyzing and integrating vast genomic, expression, and phenotypic data will facilitate your curiosity-driven research into the function and activity of complex immune signaling networks and their evolution in plants. Together with the industry partners (7 vegetable breeding companies), you will be involved in developing more sustainable solutions to improve lettuce resilience.


As the ideal candidate, you are proactive, curiosity-driven, and have a hands-on mentality. You also have:

  • an MSc degree (or equivalent) in Biology or Molecular Life Sciences, or you can obtain such a degree before the starting date of your PhD project;
  • a strong background in at least one but preferentially two of the following areas: Plant or animal immunity, Molecular Biology, or Biochemistry;
  • a command in a programming language (considered a plus);
  • affinity with genetics;
  • the willingness to learn new methods of computational data analysis;
  • excellent communication, presentation, and writing skills;
  • a team player with good communication skills;
  • working proficiency in English.


  • an exciting research opportunity in our dynamic Utrecht Plant-Microbe Interactions group that is embedded in the exciting research program LettuceKnow;
  • a full-time position for 4 years;
  • a full-time gross salary starting at €2,395 in the first year and increasing to €3,061 in the fourth year (scale P Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities (cao));
  • benefits including 8% holiday bonus and 8.3% end-of-year bonus;
  • a pension scheme, partially paid parental leave, and flexible employment conditions based on the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities.

In addition to the employment conditions laid down in the cao for Dutch Universities, Utrecht University has a number of its own arrangements. For example, there are agreements on professional development, leave arrangements, and sports. We also give you the opportunity to expand your terms of employment via the Employment Conditions Selection Model. This is how we like to encourage you to continue to grow.

More information about working at the Faculty of Science can be found here.

About the organisation

You will be working in the dynamic Plant-Microbe Interactions group at Utrecht University and collaborate intensively with other PhD students and post-docs on the LettuceKnow program. Importantly, your communication and collaboration skills are also of great importance to have an optimal exchange of knowledge and ideas between the academic groups and the seven breeding companies.

LettuceKnow (a NWO-TTW perspective program) started in 2019 to investigate the key resilience and architecture traits of lettuce. Lettuce is an important component of a healthy diet with an extensive global use. The project aims to identify molecular mechanisms and genes for resilience and architecture. The basis for this is the combination of large-scale transcriptomics of diversity panels of 500 wild and cultivated Lactuca accessions, cutting-edge phenotyping, powerful integrative bioinformatics & machine learning, and state-of-the-art plant biology. The LettuceKnow team brings together leading scientists in the areas of plant biology, genomics, and data sciences to enable the optimal use of big data and discover the genes/alleles underlying important traits. It comprises a diverse research community with a strong focus on resolving major challenges for Dutch lettuce breeders to develop resilient and sustainable varieties that are adapted to changing climate conditions, emerging disease threats, and technological growth innovations such as vertical farming and LED illumination. Combined with the dedicated input of the highly innovative vegetable breeding industry, LettuceKnow will strongly contribute to the science-driven improvement of a healthy food crop, which will do justice to the economic importance of lettuce as a main contributor to global vegetable crop production.

At the Faculty of Science, there are 6 departments to make a fundamental connection with: Biology, Chemistry, Information and Computing Sciences, Mathematics, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Physics. Each of these is made up of distinct institutes that work together to focus on answering some of humanity’s most pressing problems. More fundamental still are the individual research groups – the building blocks of our ambitious scientific projects.

Utrecht University is a friendly and ambitious university at the heart of an ancient city. We love to welcome new scientists to our city – a thriving cultural hub that is consistently rated as one of the world’s happiest cities. We are renowned for our innovative interdisciplinary research and our emphasis on inspirational research and excellent education. We are equally well-known for our informal atmosphere and the can-do mentality of our people. This lively and inspiring academic environment attracts professors, researchers, and PhD candidates from all over the globe, making both the University and the Faculty of Science a vibrant international and diverse community.

Additional information

If you have any questions that you’d like us to answer, please contact Dmitry Lapin,

Questions about the application procedure? Please send an email to


Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. If you have the expertise and the experience to excel in this role then simply respond via the “Apply” button!

Please enclose:

  • your letter of motivation;
  • your Curriculum vitae;
  • the names, telephone numbers, and email addresses of at least two references.

If this specific opportunity isn’t for you, but you know someone else who may be interested, please forward the link to them.

Some connections are fundamental – Be one of them

The application deadline is 4 July 2021.