Postdoctoral and PhD positions - Does Nicotiana attenuata make adaptive mate-choice decisions and if so, how does it do it?

Prof. Ian Baldwin, Department of Molecular Ecology of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology

The self-compatible Nicotiana attenuata grows in genetically diverse populations after fires and produces flowers that remain open for three days and are visited by assorted pollinators. This native tobacco consistently selects particular mates from mixed pollen loads of multiple mates, all of which are equally fecund in single genotype pollinations. This consistent mate selection is strongly positively correlated with a stylar post-pollination ethylene burst and the termination of floral advertisement. Mate selection occurs via differential pollen tube growth in the upper stylar track and requires ethylene signaling (see Bhattacharya, S. and I.T. Baldwin. 2012. The Plant Journal 71(4), 587–601). We have recently discovered that components of a Solanaceous self-incompatibility (SI) mechanism, particularly stylar-expressed RNase I/II, have been repurposed to play central roles in this pre-zygotic mate selection process (see Guo et al. 2019 Current Biology). We would like to advance the work by understanding the relationship between the post-pollination ethylene burst and the activity of S-RNase I/II in natural accessions and utilize a MAGIC-RIL population, that captures a majority of the genetic diversity of this species (see Ray et al. 2019; The Plant Journal), to conduct a forward genetic analysis of the mate-selection mechanisms. A 24-port laser photoacoustic spectrometer capable of high-throughput quantifications of stylar ethylene emissions as well as stable transgenic plants with silenced ethylene signaling and S-RNAse activity and a virus-induced gene silencing toolbox for testing the function of candidate genes are available to support the research. We are also interested in understanding in the adaptive function of these mate choice decisions and are evaluating if the offspring of selected mates survive in the seedbank differently than do non-selected mates and are interested in uncovering traits that might be sexually selected and important for the survival of seeds in the hostile below-ground environment.

Over the past three decades we have created a molecular-ecological toolbox for Nicotiana attenuata, a native diploid tobacco that grows in the Great Basin Desert, to understand how this native plant survives in the real world. The toolbox is composed of three support platforms (molecular, analytical and ecological) which includes state-of-art molecular biological, genetic and analytical resources comparable or better than what you can find dispersed across the entire Arabidopsis community, but also a field station located in a nature preserve in the plant’s native habitat in SW Utah, at which communities of transgenic plants, harboring silencing and over-expression constructs for plant and insect (for plant-mediated RNAi) genes are regularly planted to test functional hypotheses about gene function (for more information about these toolboxes see our webpages:

We are offering:  3-year Post Doctoral and PhD positions for creative biologists and chemists and independence to utilize the tools of this remarkable molecular/ecological toolbox to explore hypotheses about the mechanisms and functional consequences of mate-choice in N. attenuata. We offer competitive salaries according to MPG guidelines, a stimulating work environment, and excellent mentoring for your transition to a professorship or other positions in which your science can flourish. Payment will be based on the German public service (TVöD- Bund) and depends on qualifications and professional experience. Various fringe benefits in accordance with public service positions are included.

We expect: A PhD in plant sciences, with strong skills in molecular biology and analytical chemistry; an inquisitive mind; excellent verbal and written communication skills; a publication track record, and a collaborative personality capable of taking full advantage of the awesome genetic, analytical and ecological resources that the Department of Molecular Ecology has developed for Nicotiana attenuata as a model ecological expression system. Experience in modern microscopy and proteomics and/or small molecule metabolomics would be a plus. Please read Baldwin’s Scientists' Creed  for an elaboration of the Department’s expectations.

How to apply: Send your CV, a summary of your previous research experience, a statement of research interests and a short statement how you would take advantage of the N. attenuata toolbox and contact information for at least two references to Melanie Wilson who will be conducting the initial candidate screening. Suitable candidates will be interviewed by phone by Ian Baldwin and asked to write a short proposal, followed by an invitation for a seminar. The positions are available immediately and will remain open until filled.

The Max-Planck Society is an equal opportunity employer and strives to employ both genders equally, as well as to employ more individuals with disabilities. Therefore we encourage all applicants, independent of their nationality, gender or disability, to apply for this position.

Melanie Wilson
Department of Molecular Ecology
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
Hans-Knoell-Strasse 8
D-07745 Jena
application [at]