Master Project in the Research Group Root-Herbivore Interactions


Project: Struggling in the dark: How the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) protects its roots against insect herbivores

Root herbivores are a widespread and important threat to plants. Yet, little is known about the strategies the latter can use to withstand root attack. A well-known plant defense strategy in the leaves is the production of a milky sap, also referred to as latex. Its protective role against leaf-feeding insect is well known. But can latex also protect plant roots?
The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) relies heavily on its strong tap root as a storage organ. Interestingly, T. officinale roots also exude significant quantities of latex when damaged, and we hypothesize that this strategy may be instrumental for the plant in protecting its roots against attackers. To test this idea, we combine the natural diversity of different T. officinale accessions with a transgenic approach. As T. officinale reproduces clonally, we will easily be able to study fitness consequences of root herbivory and latex production - a unique opportunity that may lead to paradigm-shifting insights into plant-insect ecology!

In this context, we have a master’s thesis available in our group. The successful candidate will investigate to which extent T. officinale genotypes differ in their latex response to below ground feeders and how this affects their resistance and fitness. The study will include both greenhouse and behavioral experiments and can be extended to include field studies and/or phytochemical investigations, depending on the interests of the student.

We offer a dynamic research environment, the opportunity to contribute to an exciting project and the possibility to learn a variety of research methods from behavioral ecology to phytochemistry. The candidate will directly work with a PhD student, which ensures close supervision and an interesting and stimulating atmosphere.

We are looking for a highly motivated, independent and reliable student, preferentially with a background in ecology, evolution, plant-insect interactions, entomology or phytochemisty. Motivated applicants from other fields are also welcome to apply. A solid background in English is advantageous. The student is encouraged to develop his own research idea and to actively contribute to the development of the project.

Start: Position is open until filled
Duration: 6-12 months
Contact:  Meret Huber

Research Group “Root Herbivore Interactions”
Dep. Biochemistry
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
Hans-Knöll-Straße 8, 07745 Jena
E-mail: mhuber [at]