vacancy for a PhD-position

The research groups Animal Ecology and Microbial Ecology of the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies (University of Groningen) have a vacancy for a PhD-position:

Project “How microbes shape bird eggs: matching pathogen risk and protection”

Microbes are everywhere. On birds, in birds, and around birds. Birds and eggs need to protect themselves from pathogenic influences, but may also benefit from the microbial communities that they house. This project explores how environmental conditions shape variation in microbial communities and thereby have evolutionary consequences for the protective systems of birds against microbes. We use the egg-nest unit as a simple model system to study the association between microbial communities (of the nest environment) and antimicrobial defenses (of the eggs). Inside an egg, invading microbes encounter a nutrient-rich environment. To protect the developing embryo from infection and death the egg employs antimicrobial defenses. When compared with the complex immune system of birds, the antimicrobial defense of eggs is simple. It consists of physical barriers (shell and membrane) and a chemical defense composed of several antimicrobial proteins. The project consists of two parts: 1. experimentally manipulating the nest microbial community and looking at effects on the antimicrobial defenses of eggs in captive birds, and 2. performing a comparative study on eggs of wild birds across a range of environmental conditions. Molecular tools from microbial ecology as well as immunological assays will need to be further developed and fine-tuned for this bird-project. This project fits in a larger research program focused on understanding how environmental pathogen pressure and avian immune defenses interact and vary across space and time.

We are looking for an enthusiastic and broad-minded candidate interested in integrating microbial and animal ecology. Ideally, you are a microbial ecologist with a passion for birds, or an animal ecologist with a special interest in microbes. A background in veterinary or animal science is also possible. You have experience with microbiological and biochemical laboratory work. Affinity with work on birds, in captivity and in the field, will be an advantage.

For more information please contact Dr. Irene Tieleman or Dr. Joana Salles (, or check:

Conditions of employment
The University of Groningen offers a PhD-fellowship (ca. €1600 per month) for a period of four years that should be completed with the defense of a PhD-dissertation. After one year, the performance of the candidate will be evaluated to decide whether there is sufficient progress to expect a successful completion of the PhD-thesis within the remaining three years. A training program is part of the PhD-trajectory. You and your supervisors will design a plan for additional education and supervision tailored to your specific needs. Your supervisors will be Dr. B. Irene Tieleman and Dr. Joana F. Salles.

Applicants should send a 1-page statement of research interests, motivation for this project and academic/professional goals; a complete CV; copies of publications; and names and contact information of two referees who can supply letters of recommendation upon our request.

Please send applications by email before 15 October 2009 to:
Dr. B. Irene Tieleman (, please mention MICROBIRD in the subject.

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