Master Thesis Projects in the Max Planck Research Group Insect Symbiosis

Beetles in the subfamily Lagriinae live in association to bacteria of the genus Burkholderia, a group exhibiting extraordinary ecological and metabolic versatility. The transmission of the symbiotic bacteria from mother to offspring is facilitated by structures, particularly in the larval stage, that are considered unique in terms of location and development. 

Project 1: Horizontal transmission of bacterial symbionts in lagriid beetles

Despite a described vertical transmission route, the possibility remains that lagriid beetles occasionally acquire Burkholderia from the environment or from related host species (horizontal transmission), having important implications for the ecology and evolutionary trajectory of the association. The main purpose of the project is to test whether horizontal transmission of bacterial symbionts can occur across two different lagriid species and to describe potential exchange routes, as well as the possibility of infection by multiple bacterial strains.

In order to address these questions, the student will work on manipulative experiments involving bacterial culture, insect collection and lab rearing, DNA extraction, PCR, phylogenetic analyses and Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). We are looking for a highly motivated candidate with a strong background in the areas of ecology, evolutionary biology, entomology or microbiology, to carry out her/his M.Sc. thesis project or an internship for a period of at least 4-6 months.

Project 2: Genomics of Burkholderia symbionts of lagriid beetles

The symbiotic bacteria in the two lagriid hosts investigated until now belong to the species Burkholderia gladioli, which is known to be pathogenic on certain plants and fungi, as well as an opportunistic human pathogen. In contrast to other vertically transmitted bacterial symbionts, the lagriid-associated strains possess a genome of comparable size to that of free-living relatives, thus lacking evident signs of genome erosion. The M.Sc. thesis project will focus on a comparative genomic analysis of the symbiotic strains and their closest relatives with a different life style in order to identify genomic traits and/or specific genes that are potentially relevant for the symbiosis.

The M.Sc. student should have experience and/or a solid theoretical knowledge in bioinformatics, genome analysis and/or biochemistry, as well as a strong interest in evolutionary biology and the ecology of symbiotic interactions. Programming skills or a background in transcriptome analyses is also advantageous.


Please send your applications (including previous research experience, CV, and statement of interest) to:

Laura Flórez/Dr. Martin Kaltenpoth

Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
Research Group Insect Symbiosis
Hans-Knöll-Straße 8, 07745 Jena

E-mail: lflorez [at] or mkaltenpoth [at]