02 December 2019

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For more information please contact Prof. dr. Hervé Vanderschuren, tel.: +32 16 37 62 45, mail:
Applications review and selection process will start on January 1st, 2020. The position will remain open until suitable candidate is identified.You can apply for this job no later than February 29, 2020 via the online application toolKU 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

Apply before 29 February 2020

In the PhD project, the successful candidate will elaborate new DNA-free approaches to edit banana and cassava genomes in order to improve quality traits (starch) as well as disease resistance in two crops.

About the Tropical Crop Improvement Laboratory

The laboratory implements trait improvement approaches for important tropical crops such as banana and cassava. The Laboratory has a strong focus on molecular biology, genetics and omics approaches to investigate crop responses to biotic and abiotic stresses.

The Tropical Crop Improvement Lab works in close collaboration with Bioversity International (located in the same building), managing the International Musa Germplasm Transit Centre (ITC), which is home to the world’s largest collection of banana germplasm. The laboratory has a strong expertise in cassava and banana research.

Tropical Crop Improvement website (

About the Division of Crop Biotechnics

The Division of Crop Biotechnics performs cutting-edge research on crop and model plant species, integrating knowledge at the cellular, tissue, plant, environment and agro-systems level. The Division consists of several research groups developing various molecular tools and having a strong expertise in molecular biology, plant pathology, tropical crops, genomics, plant hormones, plant nutrition and soil.

Crop Biotechnics provides a very international working environment with opportunities to collaborate with top-ranked universities and international research centers.

Division website (

About Univesity of Leuven

KU Leuven offers a competitive and international working environment with access to cutting-edge technologies and expertise. KU Leuven is the best internationally ranked university in Belgium and ranks amongst the best European universities for research and education.

KU Leuven also ranks as the most innovative university in Europe, building on a very strong tech transfer office.

Website unit


The discovery of CRISPR in bacteria has rapidly led to the development of various CRISPR-based applications that enable genome manipulation with an increasing level of precision. CRISPR/Cas9 techniques have been successfully used to edit plant genomes in order to confer new traits. The potential of CRISPR/Cas9 techniques is nearly unlimited and opens the ground for various innovations in crop improvement. Teams led by Prof. Vanderschuren, for example, developed CRISPR/Cas9-based approaches to combine genome editing and speed breeding (Bull et al., 2018, Science Advances) and studied the impact of CRISPR/Cas9-based disease resistance on virus evolution (Mehta et al., 2019, Genome Biology).

In the PhD project, the successful candidate will elaborate new DNA-free approaches to edit banana and cassava genomes in order to improve quality traits (starch) as well as disease resistance in both crops. The project will build on molecular biology and bio-informatics components with excellence in tissue culture techniques for which innovations are also urgently needed in order to successfully implement CRISPR/Cas-based techniques.

The following tasks are planned:

  • Identification of candidate genes in banana and cassava genomes (using omics data) for trait improvement and DNA-free genome editing approaches
  • Construct design and optimization for efficient genome editing in model and crop species
  • Development of genome editing protocols for banana and cassava
  • Development of bioassays for rapid screening of improved trait(s) in genome edited plants

The research project will also build on a strong collaboration with Bioversity International and other CGIAR research centers (IITA, CIAT) for technology development and assessment.


We seek a candidate with a degree in Biology, Bioinformatics, Biotechnology, Agricultural Sciences or other relevant degree for the above mentioned tasks. The successful candidate should have demonstrated experience in at least two of the following research fields: molecular biology, tissue culture, bioinformatics, crop genetics, biotechnology, phytopathology.

The successful candidate will have the following profile:

  • creative with a strong interest in innovation
  • good academic performance at the MSc and BSc levels
  • demonstrated capacity to write (scientific writing) and communicate in English
  • eager to learn new techniques
  • able to integrate in an international working environment

Important: candidates interested in this position must also be eligibleto apply for FWO PhD fellowships ( offer a full-time PhD position for 1 year. After positive evaluation, the contract can be extended to 3 additional years (4 years in total).

Excellent guidance by a dynamic multidisciplinary team.State of the art research infrastructure.A challenging job in a young, dynamic and international environment.High level scientific training at a top-ranked university.Being part of a world-class research group.Remuneration according to the KU Leuven salary scales (