Department of Plant and Microbial Biology

PhD Position - Evidence-based evaluation of the roles and application of plant peptides for the sustainable improvement of crop resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses ('PEPSTRESS', RESPONSE DP, ESR 21)
100 %

Within the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 847585, University of Zurich is offering a 36-month PhD position for an early-stage researcher (ESR) in the area of sustainable food systems.

Job Description

We are looking for a PhD student to work on novel families of phytocytokines and test their potential use as biostimulants.

Our group has recently identified several novel families of plant peptides that act as phytocytokines (i.e. endogenous peptides that modulate stress responses). The project will involve the further characterization of these peptides, including deciphering the molecular basis of their perception and function(s) in immunity (and beyond).

Our laboratory is world-leading in the study of plant receptor kinases, their ligands, and downstream signaling processes [see Nature Reviews Immunology (2016) 16:537; Science (2017) 355:287; Nature (2018) 561:248; Nature (2019) 572:270; Nature (2020) doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2702-1] for recent references relevant to this topic. The successful candidate will join a dynamic, multidisciplinary and international research group: see.

A planned secondment of a total of 12 months at Syngenta Crop Protection AG is part of this project. During this secondment, the ESR will test efficacy of synthetic plant peptides on crop tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses. To achieve this, the ESR will be working closely with Dr. Kathrin Hermann and Dr. Dirk Balmer.

The anticipated results/outcomes of this project are a better understanding of the mode-of-action of plant peptides and an evidence-based assessment of their use as biostimulants to improve stress tolerance in crops. The results will be communicated with the scientific community, policy-makers and the general public in relevant formats.

Interested / Your Profile

To perform successfully, potential candidates should be creative, ambitious and highly motivated. Fascination about sensing/signaling processes, host-pathogen interactions, and/or biotechnology is a requirement. Previous experience in plant biology is an advantage, but is not strictly required. Good writing and communication skills are also essential.

Eligibility: Early stage researcher in the first 4 years (full-time equivalent) of their research careers, including the period of research training, starting at the date of obtaining the degree which would formally entitle them to embark on a doctorate either in the country in which the degree was obtained or in the country in which the initial training activities are provided.

At the time of recruitment (December 1, 2020) by the host organisation, researchers must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in Switzerland for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately before the reference date. Compulsory national service and/or short stays such as holidays are not taken into account.

Language requirement: Proficient oral and written English skills are expected.

Main Research Field: Biotechnology
Sub Research Field: Crop stress tolerance

RESPONSE is open to applicants of any nationality.


We are offering an interesting position at the interface of science and policy. While working in an international, interdisciplinary and innovative research environment at University of Zurich, the ESR will be jointly co-supervised by Prof. Cyril Zipfel at the Institute of Plant and Microbial Biology of the University of Zurich and Dr. Kathrin Hermann and Dr. Dirk Balmer at Syngenta Crop Protection AG in Stein (Switzerland).

The complete 36 months will be under 100 % working contracts.

The PhD salary follows the regulations of University of Zurich and will be according to EU regulations for Marie Skłodowska-Curie Early Stage Researchers. The monthly gross salary will not be lower than CHF 3920.

The successful candidate will be matriculated and will have a working contract at University of Zurich. He/she will work in Switzerland. The secondment will take place in Stein (Switzerland).

Further information:
RESPONSE Doctoral Programme: «RESPONSE - to society and policy needs through plant, food and energy sciences» is funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No 847585. RESPONSE DP builds on the academic expertise of three world-leading institutions - ETH Zurich, University of Zurich and University of Basel. The successful candidate will be integrated in the research network and infrastructure of the internationally renowned competence center Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center.

All RESPONSE ESRs will follow the PSC PhD Program Science and Policy that is unique in its kind. Through the curriculum of this program, ESR will be trained in the communication of scientific evidence to policy-makers and the public; the involvement of different stakeholder groups as well as in policy development and endorsement in Europe and at global scale.

For project, programme and application details, see the RESPONSE DP webpage

Working Location

University of Zurich, Zollikerstrasse 107, 8008 Zurich, Switzerland

Starting Date and Application

Expected starting date of the working contract: 01.03.2021

For submitting your online application: (select PhD program Science and Policy). The online application should contain all information as indicated by the application portal. Moreover, the following documents have to be uploaded under "further documents": 1) a letter of motivation to join a) the RESPONSE doctoral programme and b) to apply for this specific position (ESR 21), 2) a comprehensive tabular CV, and 3) transcripts of records. If you apply for more than one RESPONSE position, please refer to them in your letter of motivation. Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered.

For further information: Prof. Cyril Zipfel