Postdoctoral position – A forward genetics analysis of Nicotiana attenuata’s interactions with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF)

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

With our recently published high-through-put (HTP) screening method for AMF colonization (patent pending), by quantifying AMF-specific blumenol markers from minute amounts of leaf tissue (1; 2), we can readily quantify the strength of AMF associations in large forward-genetic N. attenuata populations (AI-RILs and MAGIC-RILs populations) growing in natural habitats. The first part of the project will be to use an established QTL pipeline to impute loci involved in AMF associations to identify target loci that will be subsequently manipulated by gene silencing or editing. Loci will be selected for their utility in answering questions about the ecological functions of AMF associations in nature (see below), silenced in the specific RILs which guided the imputations, and planted into hypothesis-structured populations at our field stations in Utah and Arizona to test functional inferences. All of these procedures are functional in our Department.

N. attenuata’s associations with Rhizophagus irregularis and F. mosseae AMF (3; 4) are clearly important for P and N nutrition, when plants grow outside burned areas with fire-enhanced N and P supply rates, however the AMF associations are detrimental, stunting growth at intermediate nutrient supply levels (5). The frequency of plants harboring AMF associations is highly variable in natural populations, likely reflecting other functional roles for this symbiosis. Recently we have shown in glasshouse experiments that AMF networks transmit herbivore-elicited JA signaling among connected plants, and filter the direct defense responses elicited by these signals (6). While we are currently able to completely abrogate AMF associations by silencing components of the Symbiotic signaling pathway (e.g., CCaMK(3)), we are confident that the MAGIC-RIL population, that captures the genetic variability of this native tobacco, will harbor loci that allow for less ham-fisted means of manipulating this important ecological interaction.
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 (through 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:  A 3-year Post Doctoral position for creative biologists and independence to utilize the tools of this remarkable molecular/ecological toolbox to explore hypotheses about the mechanisms and functional consequences of AMF interactions. 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.

We expect: A PhD in plant sciences; a track record of driving research projects to successful publications; strong skills in plant molecular biology and genetics; an inquisitive mind; excellent verbal and written communication skills; 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 the Nicotiana attenuata model ecological expression system. Experience in QTL analysis, reverse genetics and/or analytical chemistry would be a plus. Please read Baldwin’s Scientists' Creed for an elaboration of the Department’s expectations.

How to apply: 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. 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 to address functional questions about N. attenuata’s interactions with AMF 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 position is available immediately and will remain open until filled.

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

Further reading:

  1. Wang, M., Schäfer, M., Li, D., Halitschke, R., Dong, C.-F., McGale, E., Paetz, C., Song, Y., Li, S., Dong, J., Heiling, S., Groten, K., Franken, P., Bitterlich, M., Harrison, M., Paszkowski, U., Baldwin, I. T. (2018). Blumenols as shoot markers for root symbiosis with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. eLife, 7: e37093. doi:10.7554/eLife.37093.
  2. Mindt, E., Wang, M., Schäfer, M., Halitschke, R., Baldwin, I. T. (2019). Quantification of blumenol derivatives as leaf biomarkers for plant-AMF association. Bio-protocol, 9(14): e3301. doi:10.21769/BioProtoc.3301.
  3. Groten, K., Nawaz, A., Nguyen, N. T. H., Santhanam, R., Baldwin, I. T. (2015). Silencing a key gene of the common symbiosis pathway in Nicotiana attenuata specifically impairs arbuscular mycorrhizal infection without influencing the root-associated microbiome or plant growth. Plant, Cell and Environment, 38(11), 2398-2416. doi:10.1111/pce.12561.
  4. Wang, M., Wilde, J., Baldwin, I. T., Groten, K. (2018). Nicotiana attenuata's capacity to interact with arbuscular mycorrhiza alters its competitive ability and elicits major changes in the leaf transcriptome. Journal of Integrative Plant Biology, 60(3), 242-261. doi:10.1111/jipb.12609.
  5. Riedel, T., Groten, K., Baldwin, I. T. (2008). Symbiosis between Nicotiana attenuata and Glomus intraradices: ethylene plays a role, jasmonic acid does not. Plant, Cell and Environment, 31(9), 1203-1213. doi:10.1111/j.1365-3040.2008.01827.x.
  6. Song, Y., Wang, M., Zeng, R., Groten, K., Baldwin, I. T. (2019). Priming and filtering of antiherbivore defences among Nicotiana attenuata plants connected by mycorrhizal networks. Plant, Cell and Environment. doi:10.1111/pce.13626