PhD Position in Insect Molecular Ecology

The Department of Molecular Ecology at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology (Head: Prof. Ian Baldwin) invites applications for a PhD fellowship in insect molecular ecology.

Nicotiana attenuata
(Solanaceae) produces chemical defenses in response to attack from its specialist herbivore, Manduca sexta (Lepidoptera). Some of these defense chemicals such as chlorogenic acid and rutin are produced constitutively, whereas others, like nicotine, diterpene glycosides and proteinase inhibitors, are induced by the herbivore feeding. Although these defense chemicals retard the growth and development of M. sexta, the larvae usually survive, which means that M. sexta has evolved unknown mechanisms to tolerate and/or detoxify the xenobiotics of its host plant. In order to understand these detoxification/tolerance responses, we conducted a microarray based study. The midgut transcriptome of M. sexta feeding on wild type N. attenuata plant was compared to that of M. sexta feeding on transgenic plants, which were impaired in the production of at least one of the defense metabolites. We found that in response to each defense compound, one or few M. sexta genes were upregulated. To discover the mode of action of each of these candidate genes, we use a reverse genetics approach, wherein the candidate gene is silenced using ‘plant mediated RNA interference’. M. sexta larvae silenced for a particular candidate gene are fed on the wild type or the inducer-compound deficient N. attenuata plants and are studied for their behavioral, metabolomic and transcriptional responses. In addition the transgenic, insect-gene silencing plants are taken to the native habitat of both plant and insect (the Great Basin Desert of Utah), where M. sexta larvae feeding on these plants are studied in the context of their interactions with their predators and parasites to reveal if the plant defense compounds play roles in the tritrophic interactions.

We are looking for a motivated PhD student having a masters (or equivalent) degree in biology/ biotechnology/ zoology/ botany and strong interests in insect-plant interactions. Applicants should have a firm background in molecular biology and biochemistry.

We offer exciting research questions, state-of-the art equipment and an excellent research environment within Department of Molecular Ecology. Successful candidate will receive a PhD fellowship. The position is available immediately and open until filled.

Please send your application including CV, statement of research interests, names and e-mail addresses of two referees to

Dr. Sagar Pandit
Department of Molecular Ecology
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
Hans-Knöll-Straße 8
D-07745 Jena

Homepage: http://www/ext/itb-groups.html#c1746
Email: spandit [at]