The ETH Zurich Sustainable Food Processing group and Laboratory of Nutrition and Metabolic Epigenetics in the Department of Health Science and Technology are building a joint strategic research line in Microalgae in Human Nutrition and Health.

The Sustainable Food Processing group focuses on a system-oriented approach in food production via the consideration of the total value chain including emerging needs in society and their environmental, economic, and social impact. Innovative raw materials from microalgae are utilized within urban farming and processing concepts to enable new ways of sustainable food supply.

The Laboratory of Nutrition and Metabolic Epigenetics aims to gain insights into the complex relationship between nutrition, metabolism and the epigenome with advanced techniques such as single-cell and next-generation sequencing techniques as well as human and murine in vivo and in vitro studies and combine these with genome-wide computational and bioinformatic analysis.

With excellent support from these two ETH groups, we are recruiting as soon as possible a doctoral student on the topic of Microalgae in Human Nutrition and Health, focusing on using microalgae for iron-deficiency anaemia treatment to support the long-term goal of human clinical trials.

Project background Micronutrient deficiency represents one of the biggest global nutritional problems. For instance, iron deficiency is the most common global nutritional deficiency, affecting more than 2 billion people, among which more than half are anaemic. Iron-deficiency anaemia (IDA) is a global health problem that causes impaired cognitive development and growth in children, decreased work productivity and increased maternal morbidity and mortality during pregnancy.

It is particularly common in low- and middle-income countries due to low-iron diets and primarily affects women and children. Dietary interventions are currently considered to be the best strategy to overcome IDA. For instance, red meat and fishcontain high amounts of highly bioavailable heme iron. However, these foods are relatively expensive and not or poorly consumed by vegetarians and vegans.

Plant-based food is getting increasing attention in recent years due to its expected nutritional value and better sustainability. However, iron absorption from plant-based food is generally not high due to overall low (bioavailable) iron content and commonly present iron uptake inhibitors.

Novel food formulations or sources with high contents of bioavailable iron are urgently needed to fight the global challenges presented by IDA. Microalgae are small unicellular microorganisms that could be produced under photoautotrophic, heterotrophic, or mixotrophic modes that are getting high attention as more sustainable novel food globally.

Microalgae could contain hundred times more iron compared to beef, a commonly accepted iron-rich food. Microalgae could be an important mineral feedstock for human nutrition and health that is not well explored, yet.

Job description As a doctoral student, you will be responsible for research working towards exploring how to produce bioavailable iron in microalgae during bioprocessing, labelling iron using stable isotopes in photobioreactors, and investigating the bioaccessibility and bioavailability of microalgae-derived iron using simulation of gastrointestinal food digestion and human cells.

Your tasks will include:

  • Summarize the existing knowledge on micronutrients from microalgae and other novel foods for human nutrition and health
  • Explore and design bioprocess procedure to produce microalgae with highly bioavailable iron
  • Characterize and analyse the mineral compositions of different microalgae biomass
  • Validate laboratory methods to label minerals in microalgae cells
  • Assess the bioaccessibility of minerals in microalgae
  • Generate human intestinal epithelial cells for iron absorption analysis
  • Compare bioaccessibility and bioavailability of iron from different microalgae and conventional animal- and plant-based foods
  • Identify related molecular machineries relevant for iron absorption
  • Support teaching activities and co-supervise MSc and BSc students
  • Act at the interface between science and technology when supervising students and collaborating with partners from academia and industry
  • Support grant applications for the team and support related activities from Singapore-ETH Centre, ETH World Food System Center WFSC, and ETH for Development ETH4D competence center

Your profile

  • A MSc (or equivalent) in Nutrition and Health, Biotechnology, Bioprocessing, Cell or Molecular Biology, Food Science and Technology (or similar)
  • A strong passion for nutrition and health, sustainability, and novel food
  • Expertise and interest in working with biological systems (e.g. microalgae and human cells, experience in working on microalgae and (or) nutrition assessment will get priority)
  • Experience and strong interest in nutrition assessment using in vitro models (gastrointestinal food digestion and human cells)
  • Ability to work in a dynamic, international, and interdisciplinary team
  • Ability to collaborate with different teams and national and international partners
  • Interest in working independently and supervising students
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills in English
  • Scientific curiosity and motivation to perform scientifically rigorous experimental work

Your workplaceWe offer:

You will be working with a leading research team on Microalgae in Human Nutrition and Health with strong support from two ETH groups. You will be working with state-of-the-art research equipment in an excellent and open working environment.

ETH Zurich and the team provide excellent training opportunities for career development and strong networks in both sustainable food and nutrition. The project will also get support from research assistants when needed.

We value diversity In line with our values, ETH Zurich encourages an inclusive culture. We promote equality of opportunity, value diversity and nurture a working and learning environment in which the rights and dignity of all our staff and students are respected.

Curious? So are we. We look forward to receiving your online application with the following documents:

  • Cover letter outlining your motivation and experience in the field
  • Three-page research proposal/plan within the project background described above
  • CV, please include your picture and information for two referees (name, affiliation, position, email address; one referee should be from your current working institute/company)
  • Degree certificates (e.g. Master’s and Bachelor’s degree) and transcript of records

The call is open until we identified a suitable candidate. Please note that applications without these documents will not be considered. Also, applications without a research proposal will not be considered. Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application system. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered.

Apply online now

About ETH Zürich: 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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