HOURS PER WEEK: 38 to 40FACULTY: Faculty of ScienceDEPARTMENT: Department of Biology, Plant-Microbe InteractionsAPPLICATION DEADLINE: 15 September 2023



Job description

Become part of the new research institute CropXR! Our programme with a budget of 96 million Euro for the next 10 years, aims to develop eXtra Resilient (XR) crops for durable agriculture. Plant biology, simulation modelling, and artificial intelligence are integrated into innovative ‘smart breeding methods’ to develop crop varieties that are more resilient to climate change and less dependent on chemical crop protection. In our interdisciplinary programme, four universities and dozens of plant breeding, biotech and processing companies collaborate. Together, we work on basic scientific research, data collection and data sharing, education, and advancing applications in agronomy and plant breeding. If you want to contribute to develop technology and knowledge for breeding of crops that are resilient, require no inputs that negatively impact our planet, and contribute to healthy life, then join the CropXR programme!

This vacancy is part of the CropXR Potato programme. The PhD project aims to investigate the potential of the potato microbiome to improve growth and stress resilience of potato crop systems. In this PhD project you will work with microbiomes from a diverse set of 100 potato fields. You will analyse their microbial community profiles, and experimentally relate them to their effect on potato growth, development and stress resilience in the Netherlands Plant-Ecophenotyping Centre 

external link

 (NPEC) using robotized plant shoot and root architecture phenotyping technologies. Your research will inform the crop modelling projects in CropXR Potato. Discoveries from your project may ultimately lead to sustainable innovations in future microbiome-assisted potato cultivation.

As a PhD candidate you will perform research within the CropXR Potato programme. Your work will include the collection and bioinformatic analysis of a large diversity set of potato soil microbiomes. You will also test their effect on potato performance under normal and drought stress conditions in the plant-microbiome phenotyping modules in NPEC.

In your role as a PhD candidate on Harnessing the Potato Soil Microbiome Potential for Crop Resilience, you will help us in answering the following research questions:

  • How do soil microbiota help potato plants to grow and cope better with environmental stress?
  • Which microbiota and microbial functions are important for this?
  • What is the relation between microbiome-mediated stress resilience and agronomic soil management of the soil from which the microbiota originate?

You will relate findings of your research with other CropXR Potato projects, who focus on microbiome-optimized potato genotyping, and on potato field experiments and crop models for future climate resilient potato cultivation. You will be embedded in the Plant-Microbe Interactions 

external link

 group at Utrecht University. For the NPEC potato-microbiome phenotyping you will work closely together with a phenomics post-doc at Utrecht. Within CropXR Potato you will also collaborate with other PhD candidates and post-docs in Utrecht, Wageningen, and Delft, and with industrial partners from the potato breeding and processing industry.  
As a PhD candidate, you will:

  • execute the CropXR Potato project “Harnessing potato soil microbiome potential for resilient and optimised potato crop”, together with a phenomics postdoc in NPEC Utrecht;
  • work together with experimental research scientists and data and modelling scientists;
  • contribute to teaching BSc and MSc students working with you on the project.


We are looking for a highly motivated and creative PhD candidate to join us in this unique project.
You are:

  • a pleasant team player with a pro-active work attitude;
  • skilled in practical lab work in the areas of plant and/or microbial biology;
  • experienced with or have interest in plant microbiome research;
  • interested in becoming skilled in bioinformatic analysis of big (microbiome) data sets;
  • interested in robotized plant root and shoot phenotyping;
  • enthusiastic about collaborating with partners from the potato breeding and processing industry.

You possess:  

  • a MSc in the area of plant and/or microbe biology, plant biotechnology, or any other plant/microbe-related science field;
  • experience in plant biotechnology or microbiology techniques, preferably in the context of plant microbiome research;
  • an excellent command of both written and spoken English;
  • good communication and organization skills;
  • a proactive, curious attitude and you have creative ideas.

Experience with plant-microbiome research and plant phenotyping is an advantage. For the bioinformatic analysis of large potato microbiome data sets, programming skills are an advantage.
If you feel that this role is the perfect match, but you do not yet meet all the qualifications, we also welcome you to apply.


We offer you for the PhD position on Harnessing the Potato Soil Microbiome Potential for Crop Resilience:

  • a full-time position for 4 years;
  • full-time gross salary ranging from €2,770 in the first year to €3,539 in the fourth year in scale P of the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities (cao);
  • 8% holiday bonus and 8.3% end-of-year bonus;

In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions 

external link

, including an attractive retirement scheme, professional development 

external link, (partly paid) parental leave, sports external link and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). We also give you the opportunity to expand your terms of employment through the Employment Conditions Selection Model. This is how we encourage you to grow.

For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University 

external link


About the organisation

A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University 

external link

, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major strategic themes 

external link. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability. Sharing science, shaping tomorrow external link.

At the Faculty of Science 

external link

, there are 6 departments to make a fundamental connection with: Biology, Chemistry, Information and Computing Sciences, Mathematics, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Physics. Each of these is made up of distinct institutes that work together to focus on answering some of humanity’s most pressing problems. More fundamental still are the individual research groups – the building blocks of our ambitious scientific projects. Find out more about us on our social media channels.

CropXR will help to make agricultural production less vulnerable to climate change and less dependent on artificial fertilizers and chemical pesticides, thereby also creating growth opportunities for relevant economic sectors in the Netherlands. On July 1, 2023, the institute was launched. It is founded by the universities of Amsterdam (UvA), Delft (TUD), Wageningen (WUR) and Utrecht (UU). Teams within the research programme are composed of researchers from different disciplines – plant sciences, computational and data sciences, and social sciences working together on specific resilience topics and/or technological innovations. The vacancy offers the opportunity to join this ambitious scientific programme and to collaborate with a broad range of scientific specialists within and outside your expertise, as well as with stakeholders from companies (e.g. breeding or biotech) and from society. For more information on CropXR, visit our website 

external link

CropXR is supported by several funders:

The Netherlands has a long history in potato breeding, potato cultivation and potato processing. The competitive ability of the Dutch potato chain is the result of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. Holland Innovative Potato (HIP) is an association of leading companies from the potato chain which aims to strengthen the knowledge base and competitive capacity of the potato chain through collective pre-competitive research. The HIP members are: Averis/AVEBE, AVIKO, Aardevo, Bejo, FarmFrites, HZPC, Lamb Weston, Meijer Potato, McCain, PepsiCo and Solynta. Together with three university partners (WUR, TU-Delft and UU) Holland Innovative Potato developed the CropXR Potato research collaboration. CropXR Potato brings together world-leading scientists in the field of tuber crop agronomy, physiology and complex trait genetics, plant beneficial crop microbiome-interactions and big data-informed mathematical crop modelling. In an iterative research programme, they will closely collaborate. Collectively, CropXR Potato represents an unprecedented collection of scientific and applied expertise that via an interdisciplinary approach is devoted to sustainably innovate potato, the most important arable crop of the Netherlands.

This position within the CropXR Potato programme is embedded within the Plant-Microbe Interactions (PMI) chair group at Utrecht University. The PMI team studies molecular mechanisms by which plants orchestrate interactions with other organisms by activating the plant immune system to ward off pathogens and pests, while accommodating growth- and health-promoting microbiota. We have strong lines of research on the dynamics and complexity of plant-beneficial root-microbiome interactions and on the architecture and dynamics of gene regulatory networks that steer plant resilience. Our research goals are being achieved by using model and crop plant species in combination with state-of-the-art techniques and methods in phytopathology, microbiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, genomics, microbiomics and bioinformatics. With our strong ties to the recently opened Netherlands Plant-Ecophenotyping Centre 

external link

 N (NPEC), frontier plant-microbe interactions phenotyping is at our disposal.  

Additional information

For more information about this position, please contact Professor Corné Pieterse 

external link

 at C.M.J.Pieterse@uu.nl 

external link or Dr. Roeland Berendsen external link at R.L.Berendsen@uu.nl external link.  

Do you have a question about the application procedure? Please send an email to science.recruitment@uu.nl 

external link


General information about the Plant-Microbe Interactions group can be found on the website of the PMI group 

external link


Are you an international applicant? Our International Service Desk 

external link

 can answer your questions about living in the Netherlands as international staff 

external link.


Everyone deserves to feel at home 

external link

 at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives.

If you have become enthusiastic about this role, the simply respond via the “Apply now” button!
Please enclose:

  • your letter of motivation;
  • your curriculum vitae;
  • reference letters are optional but appreciated

We highly encourage candidates from diverse backgrounds and nationalities to apply. We strive to create an open, diverse, and inclusive work environment for everyone. People of any gender identity, ethnicity or sexual orientation are welcome.
If this specific opportunity isn’t for you, but you know someone else who may be interested, please forward this vacancy to them.

*Note to recruitment agencies: Please refrain from contacting us regarding this job posting.

Some connections are fundamental. Be one of them. 

external link


The application deadline is 15 September 2023.


Leave a Reply