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PhD Position – Understanding the role of stomatal traits in tree crop productivity and climate resilience

100%, Zurich, temporary

The doctoral student will join the Molecular Plant Breeding group in the Institute of Agricultural Sciences and Department of Environmental Systems Science at ETH Zurich. The PhD position is being offered for 36 months.

Project background

Leaf physiology is critical for plant survival because it determines energy production, controls water loss, and modulates environmental responses. Specialized cells on the leaf surface, called stomata, are instrumental in these functions and are acutely sensitive to air temperature, atmospheric carbon dioxide, and water availability. This sensitivity makes them attractive targets for improving plant resilience to climate change. Recent genetic advances in model systems have established that manipulation of stomatal traits can improve said resilience, but tree species are less amenable to these techniques for various reasons. However, it is possible to identify natural variation in these traits of interest and incorporate these features into breeding populations for the improvement of plant resilience and in support of sustainable food systems.

Job description

We are looking for a doctoral student to work on stomatal development and function in apple trees, in an effort to identify traits that increase tree crop productivity and promote climate resilience.

The project will include elements of plant ecophysiology and plant genetics to investigate the phenotypic differences in stomatal traits across a large and diverse genetic collection of apple accessions and breeding progeny. The differences within the collection will be used to identify the genetic loci determining the stomatal traits and evaluate the role of stomata in tree crop performance under diverse environmental conditions.

With this project, we aim to identify apple genotypes which may be advantageous under future climatic conditions and develop genetic markers that can be utilized by breeding programs in the production of novel apple germplasm. This research will also contribute to our basic understanding of how stomatal traits vary within an agricultural crop and how that variation affects plant ecophysiology.

Your profile

Successful candidates should have a background in plant ecophysiology and/or plant genetics, with an emphasis on the former. A strong desire to perform field research and travel (locally and abroad) is required and past experience is a benefit. Effective writing and communication skills in English are essential.

The student will be matriculated at ETH Zurich and have a 100% working contract for 36 months, for which the salary will follow the regulations of ETH Zurich. They will live and work in Switzerland, although the country of origin is not limited. Applications will be accepted until January 31, 2021. Expected start date is April or May, 2021.

ETH Zurich

ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.
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We look forward to receiving your online application with the following documents:

  1. A cover letter describing your motivations, fit for the position, and passion for plant science
  2. A comprehensive CV; detail any plant ecophysiology training and/or field research
  3. Transcripts of previous degrees
  4. Three professional references

Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered.

Further information about the Molecular Plant Breeding group can be found on our website: For questions about the position, please contact Dr. Graham Dow by email (no application documents).

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