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PhD opportunities at the University of Copenhagen: Terpenoid production in hairy root lines and shoot cultures

THe Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science at University of Copenhagen is offering two PhD Scholarships in Terpenoid production in hairy root lines and shoot cultures, commencing 1 August 2014 or as soon as possible thereafter.

This is an opening for two fully funded PhD Scholarships (Early Stage Researcher) under an EU FP7 Marie Curie Initial Training Network - European Industrial Doctorate (EID), entitled Plant Tissue Cultures as New Production Platforms for Terpenoid Based Anti-Cancer Drugs, DrugTissueCult (

The deadline for applications is 1 July 2014.

Project description

Plants produce a vast diversity of specialized and bioactive compounds. For thousands of years, mankind has used extracts from plants containing bioactive compounds as part of traditional herbal medicines. More recently anticancer properties of some bioactive compounds have been discovered and are now leads for new pharmaceutical drugs to combat cancers. In DrugTissueCult we focus on two bioactive compounds Thapsigargin and Withaferin A with anticancer properties. Both are of a pharmaceutical and economical value, but are difficult to obtain from their native source and very expensive to make through chemical synthesis. Thapsigargin, is a sesquiterpenoid found in Thapsia garganica plants and Withaferin A, is a triterpenoid found in Withania somnifera plants. The aim of DrugTissueCult is to generate plant tissue culture lines that produce very high amounts of Thapsigargin or Withaferin A. Investigation of how Thapsigargin and Withaferin A are biosynthesized and identification of the genes behind, will lead to an overall understanding of terpenoid biosynthesis in plants. This will also facilitate the creation of tissue culture lines where selected genes are up-regulated using genetic engineering to further enhance the production of Thapsigargin and Withaferin A.

The objectives of these PhD projects are to establish plant tissue cultures of Thapsia and Withania, study the production of terpenoids in these cultures, and use this material to initiate elucidation the biosynthetic pathways of the studied terpenoids, but also to study the regulations of terpenoids in the tissue cultures in order to enhance the production output. Other research questions may be explored depending on the development of the project and the PhD candidate background and interests.

The project is funded by EU FP7 and will be carried as private-public collaboration between the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Section for Plant Biochemistry and the Alkion Biopharm, in Paris with at least 50% of the time (18 month) spent at the company. The project will be carried out in two highly competitive, stimulating and international research environments with English being the working language.

Principal supervisors are Associate Professor, Henrik Toft Simonsen, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences,, Direct Phone: +45 353 31131 and Professor, Søren Bak, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences,, Direct Phone: +45 353 33346. Co-supervisor will be Dr. Franck Michoux, CSO of Alkion Biopharma, Direct Phone +33 160878936.

Job description

The key tasks as a PhD student at Science are:

  • Manage and carry through your research project.
  • Take PhD courses.
  • Write scientific articles and your PhD thesis.
  • Participate in congresses.
  • At least 50% of the time will be spent at the company Alkion Biofarma.
  • Teach and disseminate your research.

Key criteria for the assessment of candidates

  • Master degree (MSc) in biotechnology, preferably in plant biotechnology or related molecular biology fields and preferentially with experience within plant tissue cultures
  • The grade point of average achieved.
  • Professional qualifications relevant to the PhD programme.
  • Full list of scientific publications.
  • Knowledge and experience within biochemistry. Experience with molecular biology techniques. Basic knowledge and experience within bioinformatics.
  • Other professional activities.
  • Excellent English speaking, reading and writing skills are required. French speaking and reading is an advantage.
  • Good interpersonal skills.

Formal requirements

The position is available for a 3-year period for applicants holding a relevant master’s degree.

At the time of recruitment, it is a requirement that PhD candidates have not been awarded a doctorate degree and are in the first 4 years (full-time equivalent) of their research careers. Furthermore, at the time of selection by the host organization, researchers must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in either Denmark or France for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to their recruitment. Short stays, such as holidays, are not taken into account.
The applicant must possess a MSc degree and be able to take up the position no later than 1 September 2014.

Terms of employment

The position is covered by the Memorandum on Job Structure for Academic Staff. Terms of appointment and payment accord to the agreement between the Ministry of Finance and The Danish Confederation of Professional Associations on Academics in the State.

Application Procedure
The application, in English, must be submitted electronically by clicking APPLY ONLINE below.

Please include

  • Cover Letter (1 page only), detailing your motivation and background for applying for the PhD project. Only applications with a letter of motivation for the specific position will be accepted.
  • CV.
  • Diploma and transcripts of records (BSc and MSc).
  • Other information for consideration, e.g. list of publications (if any).
  •  References.
  • Documentation of English language qualifications, cf. general rules and guidelines, p. 5.

The applicant will be assessed according to the Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation Executive Order no. 1039 of 27 August 2013 PhD Order. The University wishes their staff to reflect the diversity of society and thus welcomes applications from all qualified candidates regardless of personal background.

By the end of August 2014, all applicants will have received information regarding the evaluation of their application.

The deadline for applications is 1 July 2014. Applications received later than this date will not be considered.

Further information and how to apply

For specific information about the PhD scholarship, please contact the principal supervisors. General information about PhD programmes at SCIENCE is available at PhD Regulations .

Click here to apply online

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