Go to the content

Synergistic biocontrol technologies for pest management in strawberry (PhD) (ref. BAP-2023-442)

Until now successful crop protection mainly relied on the use of chemical pesticides. However, as concerns on their adverse effects on human health and the environment are raising, there is an urgent need for more sustainable alternative plant protection strategies. Within the FWO-SBO project “SynBioS: Synergistic biocontrol technologies for disease and pest management in strawberry”, a consortium of experts from KU Leuven, UAntwerp and ILVO aim to develop an innovative concept of synergy, where biocontrol technologies with different modes of action are combined. More specifically, to target insects the KU Leuven Laboratory for Process Microbial Ecology and Bioinspirational Management (PME&BIM, Department of Microbial and Molecular Systems) and Laboratory of Gene Technology (Department of Biosystems) will join forces to develop a root-associated microbe-based approach to enhance plant resistance, and an indirect approach based on bacteriophages, targeting bacterial symbionts of the insects. The PME&BIM Laboratory headed by Prof. Bart Lievens is internationally recognized for its research in the domain of plant-microbe-insect interactions, while the Laboratory of Gene Technology, headed by Prof. Rob Lavigne, has close to 25 years of research experience in the field of molecular phage biology and biotechnological developments for synthetic biology applications and novel antimicrobial design strategies.


We are looking for a dynamic and highly-motivated PhD student who will perform innovative scientific research in the field of biological control. More specifically, we aim to develop a combination of a microbe-based and phage-based approach to biocontrol aphids (Myzus persicae) and stinkbugs (Halyomorpha halys), two of the most important pests in strawberry. Developed strategies will be evaluated in the field in collaboration with specialized agricultural research centers. The research activities will lead to a number of scientific papers, and also have a practical finality. The research will be performed under supervision of Prof. Bart Lievens, Prof. Rob Lavigne and Dr. Jeroen Wagemans. All have plenty of experience with high-quality PhD research. The successful candidate will be part of an international research team, and will get the chance to collaborate with expert researchers in the field of biocontrol, plant protection, biotechnology and microbiology from our own and other universities and research institutes, as well as with bachelor and master students and companies.


Interested candidates must have a master’s degree in engineering technology, bioengineering, biology or equivalent.

Qualified candidates:

· have a strong interest and knowledge in the field of microbiology, plant protection, and biological control;

· are communicative and willing to present research results at (inter)national conferences, via social media and through teaching activities;

· are willing to supervise student/thesis projects;

· are willing to help with the teaching activities of the research team;

· are well-organized, flexible, critical-thinking and not afraid to take initiative;

· can work independently, but also have good teamwork skills;

· think in solutions, not in problems;

· Proficiency in English is expected for all applicants.

· Experience in conducting experimental research is a plus.

If available, in addition to your cv and letter of application, you may add:

· An overview of study results

· A pdf version of your master thesis

· Names of one or two references who may be contacted


The successful candidate will be hired as a PhD fellow, initially for 1 year, renewable for another 3 years upon positive evaluation (4 years in total). Your main working place is the Laboratory for Process Microbial Ecology and Bioinspirational Management and the Laboratory of Gene Technology in Heverlee (Leuven).

Website Laboratory for Process Microbial Ecology and Bioinspirational Management
Website Laboratory of Gene Technology


For more information please contact Prof. dr. ir. Bart Lievens, tel.: +32 16 32 75 43, mail: bart.lievens@kuleuven.be, Prof. dr. ir. Rob Lavigne, tel.: +32 16 37 95 24, mail: rob.lavigne@kuleuven.be, or Dr. ir. Jeroen Wagemans, tel.: +32 16 37 46 22, mail: jeroen.wagemans@kuleuven.beYou can apply for this job no later than August 15, 2023 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 diversiteit.HR@kuleuven.be.

Apply before: 15/08/2023

How can we help?

The Leuven MindGate team is at your disposal for any questions about the Leuven Innovation Region. Do you want to invest, work or study in the region? We can help you find your way.

We also facilitate collaboration and innovation between companies, knowledge institutes and government within the Leuven Innovation Region, and we are happy to guide any of these stakeholders towards innovation.