PhD Funded Position to Investigate the Diversity of Banana Responses to Abiotic Stress as a solution for Climate Change : About the Tropical Crop Improvement Lab The Tropical Crop Improvement Laboratory implements trait improvement approaches for important tropical crops. The lab has a strong focus on molecular physiology, genetics and omics approaches to investigate crop responses to biotic and abiotic stresses. The laboratory has a strong expertise in cassava and banana research. Tropical Crop Improvement

The Division of Crop Biotechnics performs cutting-edge research on crop and model plant species, integrating knowledge at the cellular, tissue, plant, environment and agro-systems level. The Division consists of several research groups developing various molecular tools and having a strong expertise in molecular biology, plant pathology, tropical crops, genomics, plant hormones, plant nutrition and soil. The Division of Crop Biotechnics provides a very international working environment with opportunities to collaborate with top-ranked universities and international research centers.

About KU Leuven KU Leuven offers a competitive and international working environment with access to cutting-edge technologies and expertise. KU Leuven is the best internationally ranked university in Belgium and ranks amongst the best European universities for research and education. KU Leuven also ranks as the most innovative university in Europe, building on a very strong tech transfer office.

About Bioversity international Bioversity international/CIAT is a global research-for-development organization that is part of the One CGIAR. Bioversity manages the world’s largest banana gene bank. Our vision is that agricultural biodiversity nourishes people and sustains the planet. We deliver scientific evidence, management practices and policy options to use and safeguard agricultural biodiversity to attain sustainable global food and nutrition security. We work with partners in low-income countries in different regions where agricultural biodiversity can contribute to improved nutrition, resilience, productivity and climate change adaptation.


Banana (Musa spp.) ranks among the top 15 cultivated crops. Of the worldwide banana production, 85% is for home consumption and this production usually is rain fed. Optimal banana production however requires continuous and abundant water, while many agro-eco zones have a dry season. With climate change it is predicted that dry seasons will shift, difficult to predict and tend to be more extreme. Improving banana performance for future climatic conditions is therefore a priority. This project will focus on the African Great Lakes region, which is one of the poorest areas in the world, encompassing Burundi, north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), western Kenya, Rwanda, north-western Tanzania, and Uganda.

The region is also one of the most important banana-growing areas in the world, and is home to a unique group of banana varieties adapted to this distinctive environment. The candidate will be part of the team involved in the characterization and evaluation of the banana germplasm. The PhD studies will evaluate different genotypes with the overarching aim of modeling the impact of abiotic stresses on banana growth and development.

The overall output are genotype specific growth models that predict the impact of temperature and water deficit on their growth and development in a certain region. Molecular tools will also be used to validate hypothesis, including omics approaches. The project will take place in Leuven (Belgium) with validation of the models in field trials in the Great Lakes Region.

The project takes advantage of the longstanding partnership between Bioversity International and KULeuven, where several tools for high-throughput screening of the banana germplasm and modeling of the plant responses to abiotic stresses have been developed. The wide international network and access to fields in tropical environment also allows to validate and perform validation studies in the field (Eyland et al 2021 (Plant Physiology), Eyland et al 2021 (Crop Science), Geldhof et al 2021 (Plant Physiology), Eyland et al 2022 (Plant Cell & Environment), Manners et al 2021 (Agricultural systems)).

The following tasks are planned:

  • High throughput phenotyping of on farm collected landraces and existing germplasm from the International collection
  • Online transpiration monitoring
  • Integration of omics techniques on guard cells and other relevant tissues
  • Identification and characterization of genome-wide significant loci
  • On field water usage and growth monitoring in function of the environment and the developmental stage of the plant.

We seek a candidate with a degree in Bioscience engineering, Agriculture, Biology, Biotechnology, or other relevant degree for the abovementioned tasks. The successful candidate should have a demonstrated experience in plant physiology and molecular biology.

The successful candidate will have the following profile: 

  • creative with a strong interest in fundamental and applied research 
  • good academic performance at the MSc and BSc levels
  • demonstrated capacity to write (scientific writing) and communicate in English 
  • eager to learn new techniques (R, Matlab, omics) 
  • able to integrate in an international working environment

Important: candidates interested in this position must also be eligible to apply for FWO PhD fellowships


• We offer a full-time PhD position for 4 years.  

• Excellent guidance by a dynamic multidisciplinary team.

• State of the art research infrastructure.

• A challenging job in a young, dynamic and international environment.

• High level scientific training at a top-ranked university.

• Being part of a world-class international research group.

• Opportunities to travel, perform research activities and networking in tropical countries.

• Remuneration according to the KU Leuven salary scales


For more information please contact Mr. Sebastien Carpentier, tel.: +32 16 37 93 11, mail: or Prof. dr. Hervé Vanderschuren, tel.: +32 16 37 62 45, mail:

The position will remain open until a suitable candidate is identified. Candidates are expected to start in autumn , 2022. You can apply via the online application tool . You can apply for this job no later than September 30, 2022 via the online application tool

KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at

Leave a Reply