PHD candidate, Transmission of Antimicrobial Resistance Genes and Engineered DNA from Transgenic Biosystems in Nature (TARGETBIO)

The Faculty of Science / the Institute of Biology Leiden is looking for a

PHD candidate, Transmission of Antimicrobial Resistance Genes and Engineered DNA from Transgenic Biosystems in Nature (TARGETBIO) (1.0 FTE) 
Vacancy number: 17-385

Key responsibilities

The rise of the industrial and pharmaceutical biotechnology industry has importantly gained from the use of genetically modified organisms. For instance, actinomycetes are commonly present in soils and extensively used in industry for the production of antibiotics. The genetic information to produce these molecules is often contained on large gene clusters, many of which are found in the genomes of these bacteria. Current sequencing methods have provided us access to thousands of new biosynthetic gene clusters, which should stimulate the discovery and production of new drugs. One of the most promising tools is offered by synthetic biology, where these gene clusters are refactored and introduced in production hosts at large scale. To prevent self-killing, such hosts will also be equipped with appropriate resistance genes. While escape of the producer strains in the environment is unlikely, the synthetic DNA of genetically modified organisms may end up in wastewater treatment plants, before being released into nature. As such, these installations may represent a large and underappreciated reservoir for the integration, proliferation and spread of engineered DNA fragments and antibiotic-resistance genes. The goal of this project, launched by Leiden University (Claessen and van Wezel groups) and Delft University of Technology (Weissbrodt and van Loosdrecht groups) and funded by the Biotechnology and Biosafety Programme of Applied and Engineering Sciences Division of The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), is to systematically assess the spread of foreign DNA used for strain design and construction of synthetic cells to microbial communities present in the environment. The project will benefit from excellent collaborations, including the Delft Bioinformatics Lab (Abeel group), the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego (Jensen group), and the J. Craig Venter Institute (Glass group).

A PhD position is available at the Institute of Biology (Leiden) starting in Autumn 2017 for an exceptional and highly-motivated doctoral student to investigate the spread and exchange of DNA, using state-of-the-art molecular genetics and synthetic biology approaches. The project will capitalize on the recent discovery that some actinomycetes have a natural ability to generate hypercompetent cells that are able to efficiently take up DNA from the environment. The PhD candidate will study how widespread the formation of hypercompetent cells is within the actinomycetes, and analyse the DNA uptake capacity of these hypercompetent cells, together with the group of Prof. Glass. We will also analyse if and how these hypercompetent cells mediate cross-species DNA transfer. The appointment must lead to the completion of a PhD thesis within 4 years.

Selection Criteria

  • The candidate should have an MSc degree with specialization in molecular (micro)biology, biochemistry or related study with an excellent grade list;

  • The candidate should have an excellent spoken and written English level and is expected to master the Dutch language sufficiently. 

Research at our Faculty/Institute

The Faculty of Science is a world-class faculty where staff and students work together in a dynamic international environment. It is a faculty where personal and academic development are top priorities. Our people are driven by curiosity to expand fundamental knowledge and to look beyond the borders of their own discipline; their aim is to benefit science, and to make a contribution to addressing the major societal challenges of the future. The research carried out at the Faculty of Science is very diverse, ranging from mathematics, information science, astronomy, physics, chemistry and bio-pharmaceutical sciences to biology and environmental sciences. The research activities are organised in eight institutes. These institutes offer eight bachelor’s and twelve master’s programmes. The faculty has grown strongly in recent years and now has more than 1,300 staff and almost 4,000 students. We are located at the heart of Leiden’s Bio Science Park, one of Europe’s biggest science parks, where university and business life come together. For more information, see

The PhD candidate will work at the Institute of Biology Leiden (IBL). The IBL is an internationally oriented institute for research and education in biology. We are part of the Faculty of Science at Leiden University. Our institute performs top-quality fundamental and strategic research that provides solutions for societal challenges, and generates industrial opportunities. The IBL represents the core of modern biological research in Leiden, and interacts closely with neighbouring institutes, including the Leiden Institute of Chemistry (LIC), the Leiden Advanced Centre for Drug Research (LACDR), and the Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC).

Terms and conditions

The appointment will be 38 hours a week for the duration of one year with an extension of three years after positive evaluation. The salary will be set on €2,222 per month in the first year up to €2,840 (based on a fulltime appointment) according to the PhD-scale and terms of the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities (CAO Nederlandse Universiteiten).

An appointment with Leiden University includes a pension build-up and facilitates other benefits such as an annual holiday premium of 8% and an end-of-year premium of 8.3%. All our PhD students are embedded in the Graduate School of Science. Our graduate school offers several PhD training courses at three levels: professional courses, skills training and personal effectiveness. In addition, advanced courses to deepen scientific knowledge are offered though other PhD training networks. 


Leiden University is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from members of underrepresented groups.


For more information, please contact Dr. Dennis Claessen, tel. +31 71 527 5052, email, or Prof. Gilles van Wezel, tel. +31 71 527 4310, email


Written applications, including a motivation letter and a CV should be submitted by email to Review of applications will start by 29 September 2017 until the position is filled.
When applying, please refer to the vacancy number. Incomplete applications will not be taken into consideration. If your MSc diploma and transcript are not in Dutch, English, French or German and you will be the selected candidate, you will be asked to deliver a certified translation.

Laatst Gewijzigd: 10-10-2017