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Doctoral Researcher Position: How do phytoplasmas generate ‘zombie plants’?

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The Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology – Hans Knöll Institute – in cooperation with the Friedrich Schiller University and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology are offering an international graduate training program.

The International Leibniz Research School (ILRS Jena) gives doctoral researchers the possibility to prepare for their PhD exam in an ambitious program providing excellent research conditions.

We invite applications for a Doctoral Researcher Position (Ref.No. ILRS_10/2015)

How do phytoplasmas generate ‘zombie plants’?
Interactionof the bacterial effector protein SAP54 with floral homeoticproteins

Phytoplasmas are pathogenic bacteria that are obligate parasites of plants and transmitting insects. They can cause devastating plant diseases, e.g. by reprogramming development in a way such that leaf-like structures instead of floral organs occur. Infected plants are thus often sterile, mainly serve to reproduce phytoplasmas and hence have been termed ‘zombie plants'. The molecular mechanism underlying the developmental reprogramming relies on specific interactions of a secreted phytoplasma protein called SAP54 (or PHYLLOGEN1) with a subset of MIKC-type MADS-domain transcription factors involved in controlling flower development. The secreted part of SAP54 interacts with the keratin-like domain (K domain) of MIKC proteins and destines them for degradation, so that they cannot constitute ‘floral quartets’ anymore, the protein complexes that specify floral organ identity. Based on the recently published X-ray crystal structure of a K domain and detailed in silico analyses we have developed three hypotheses:

i) SAP54-like proteins form a structure which is very similar to that of the K domain;
ii) The interaction between SAP54 and the plant MIKC proteins is mediated by a mechanism that resembles the interaction of two K domains in floral quartets;
iii) SAP54 mimics the K-domain structure as a result of convergent protein evolution.

We want to test these hypotheses by determining the structure of SAP54-like proteins and studying the interaction between these proteins and MIKC proteins.

We expect:
  • a Master’s degree (or equivalent allowing you to pursue a PhD degree) in Natural or Life Sciences. Research at ILRS is centred around “Microbial and Biomolecular Interactions”. Candidates about to earn their degree are welcome to apply.
  • high motivation and interest to join one of the research areas of ILRS
  • creativity and interest in shaping your own thesis project
  • an integrative and cooperative personality with enthusiasm for actively participating in our lively community
  • very good communication skills in English
We offer:
  • a top-level research environment
  • efficient supervision by a team of advisors
  • a comprehensive mentoring program (cf. Program of Study)
  • courses in state-of-the-art technologies and soft skills
  • strong communication and interaction between the involved institutions
  • Jena – City of Science: innovative business activities, successful scientific centres and a vibrant cultural scene around the famous Friedrich Schiller University
The three-year Doctoral Researcher position is available starting from February 2016. Salary will be paid according to TV-L (salary agreement for public service employees). HKI is an equal opportunity employer.

Further information:
Prof. Dr. Günter Theißen, PI,
Dr. Christine Vogler, ILRS Coordinator,

The application process is handled exclusively online. Please acquaint yourself with the scientific projects offered on our website and thoroughly follow the instructions for the online application process:

Deadline for application: November 17, 2015.

Successful applicants will be invited to attend a recruitment meeting in Jena (envisaged date: Jan 13-15, 2016).


Art des Bewerbungszugangs
Online application at
Kontakt für Bewerbungen
Dr. Christine Vogler,

Details der Stellenanzeige

Befristete Anstellung
Berufserfahrung nicht vorausgesetzt
Deutschland (Thüringen)
07745 Jena
Biologie & Life Sciences, Biotechnologie