Doctoral Studentships for 2015 @ IMPRS

The Max-Planck-Institute for Plant Breeding Research, the University of Cologne and the Heinrich Heine-University Dusseldorf invite applications for three-year doctoral fellowships in the International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) in Cologne, Germany.
The IMPRS is intended for highly motivated students with a strong training in plant molecular sciences. The constellation of participating institutions provides excellent conditions in the area of plant sciences with expertise in molecular plant genetics, plant biochemistry, cell biology, bioinformatics, and mathematical modelling of biological processes.
  • Please apply online. Applications by email will not be considered.
  • The online application platform will be opened beginning of January 2015.
  • Deadline for applications is February 11, 2015.
  • The program is taught in English and open to students from all countries holding a Master’s or equivalent degree.

How to apply for a PhD position in the Max Planck Society

IMPRS Application-2015


  • The program is open for students from all countries. Once you get accepted you will be enrolled at a University, which is usually the University of Cologne or Düssedorf. To be accepted as a doctoral student you must hold a Master’s degree, comparable to the German diploma (4,5 years of university studies in relevant areas). It is not necessary to hold the degree at the time of application. However, you must have been awarded your degree prior to the start of the program. The quality of the degrees (i.e. eligibility) will be checked by the University of Cologne or Düsseldorf on a case-by-case basis.
  • The entire doctoral program is in English. Therefore, a good knowledge of English is absolutely required. We encourage you to support you candidature with scores of internationally valid language exams like TOEFL, IELTS or other tests. However, they are NOT mandatory.

How to Apply

  • You can only apply via our electronical online application process. Please do not send any other type of application by regular mail or email as they will be rejected. The application must be completed in English only. Besides the online application form, we need several documents from you. Documents that are not in English or German need to be translated. You need to upload all the required documents as one single PDF file. Please give yourself enough time to submit your application and do not wait until the last moment as technical difficulties or other problems might occur. The Max Planck Society and the Universities of Cologne and Düsseldorf are equal opportunity employers.

Single steps of your application process

  • First of all: take the time to read all instructions in detail.
  • Before you start with our online application: assemble all required documents, scan them and convert them into one single PDF file and name it LastName.FirstName.pdf.
  • Carefully fill-out the online application form, upload your pdf and press the start-button. You will receive an email confirming your upload.
  • You will receive an email with your personal registration code and a link which will lead your referees to the online recommendation form.
  • Provide your referees with your personal registration code and the link to the online recommendation form. Make sure they realize that we can consider your application only if they fill-out the recommendation form and upload their recommendation letter prior our application deadline (February 11, 2015). You will receive a confirmation email after each of your referees uploaded her/his recommendation letter.
  • After we received your complete application and the two recommendation letters in time you will get an email in March 2015 telling if you are shortlisted and therefore invited for the Selection Symposium or not (occasionally there will be a scheduled telephone interview before the invitation is sent out).

Required Documents

  • Curriculum Vitae (CV)
  • We need certain documents that prove your specifications in your online application form. Documents that are not in English or German need to be completed with a translation.
  • Your academic background is verified by certificates of relevant university examinations (e.g. BSc and MSc degrees), and a detailed record of study / transcript (a list of attended courses and – if applicable – corresponding grades). Please include an explanation of the grading system at your university, since we get applications from all over the world but do not know all the different university grading systems (obviously, the German grading system does not need to be explained).
  • The official teaching language of our IMPRS is English. Therefore you need to convince us that your English proficiency is sufficient for immediately starting with your research work. The best and most reliable way is an acceptable result in an internationally recognized test (e.g. TOEFL). Nevertheless, a verifiable higher education in English, or a reasonably long stay in an English speaking country are also convincing. However if you wish to prove your English skills, we need it documented by a third party.
  • Add further certificates that prove the given information in the application. But please, only provide documents which are important to support your application. Do not overload your application with certificates and documents of minor significance.
  • Letter of Motivation
  • High school degree transcripts (school leaving certificate, Abitur) or equivalent
  • Scholarships, prizes and awards (if applicable)
  • Copy of passport (international applicants only)
  • Portrait picture

Selection Procedure

  • The admissions committee will review all applications received prior to the deadline. Students will be selected according to their written application, grades and the letters of recommendation. Selected candidates will be invited for a personal interview. During the interview shortlisted candidates will be asked to present a 10 minute scientific presentation about the research of their Master's project or most recent research followed by a short panel discussion. This presentation is followed by a personal interview with senior scientist from the institute. Decisions about final admission will be made shortly after the interview process. Candidates who are accepted for the program will be notified by email.
  • Please also read the application tips and application FAQs found in the menu to the right.

Project Proposals FOR 2015

  • This is the list of our available 14 PhD Projects for 2015. You can only apply for these 14 projects.
  • During the online application process, you will be asked to choose three favourite projects in the order of preference.
  • Please check out all projects in detail.
  • Please note: Some of our groups are located in our partner institutions at the University of Cologne (UoC) and the Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf (HHU).

Three projects at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf (HHU):


HHU_A: Controlling seed production in Arabidopsis and crop species

Seed number is a genetically determined trait that is variable and strongly modified by the environment. This project will analyse in detail how small secreted peptides and their corresponding receptors trigger signaling pathways control seed number in the model plant Arabidopsis, and how environmental factors such as growth temperature alter the activities of these pathways. The knowledge gained here will be used to modify this important trait in a crop plant, such as rapeseed.
Group: Rüdiger Simon (HHU)

HHU_B: Genotype-Phenotype Map for Molecular Modules in Arabidopsis Thaliana

This computational biology project tries to establish a genotype-phenotype map of molecular complexes using probabilistic causal networks. The causal networks are constructed from direct correlations between nucleotides and amino acids, which are inferred from sequence data. As data source we will use the catalog of Arabidopsis Thaliana genetic variation, which currently comprises more than 1100 lines.
Group: Markus Kollmann (HHU)

HHU_C: C3-C4 intermediate species as models for early evolutionary steps on the path to C4 photosynthesis

C3-C4 intermediate plant species display lowered CO2 compensation points in comparison to C3 species. This is due to the operation of a primitive CO2concentrating pump, which is based on a shift of photorespiratory GDC activity from leaf mesophyll to bundle sheath cells. C3-C4 intermediate species are therefore considered as naturally occurring evolutionary intermediates on the path from C3 to C4 photosynthesis. This project aims at identifying the key players of these first steps of C4 evolution by correlation of genetic, phenotypic, and physiological traits in a segregating mapping population of hybrids between C3 and C3-C4 intermediate Moricandia species (Brassicaceae).
Group: Andreas Weber (HHU)

Three projects at the University of Cologne (UoC):


UoC_A: Identification of genes regulating life history traits and study of their evolutionary significance between annual and perennial plants

This project aims to identify and characterize genes involved in life strategy evolution between the perennial Arabis alpina and the annual Arabidopsis thaliana. A. alpina mutants available in our laboratory will be characterized and causal mutations will be cloned by whole genome resequencing. To understand the involvement of identified genes in the annual and perennial life cycle comparative studies will be performed between A. alpina and A. thaliana.
Group: Maria Albani (UoC/MPIPZ)

UoC_B: Genome-scale transcriptional regulatory networks involved in the plant response to phosphate availability and interactions with soil fungi

Phosphate starvation stress strongly affects plant-microbe interactions but the mechanistic basis of these interactions is hardly understood. In this project the participating PhD student will learn diverse methods, both theoretical and practical, and will build a model on how plants integrate environmental factors into their response to biotic interactions in close interaction with the co-operating partners (molecular plant physiology, plant biochemistry, bioinformatics, quantitative biology). The results are expected to reveal novel regulatory circuits in the control of plant growth and plant-microflora interactions by phosphate. Data sets from transcriptome experiments will be combined into a large meta-analysis to increase the statistical power of predictions and will be used to infer gene regulatory relationships in the response of plants to abiotic factors such as phosphate starvation, and in plant symbiosis with beneficial fungi. Candidate regulatory genes will subsequently be validated in Arabidopsis accessions widely differing in phosphate content, and in mycorrhizal Lotus japonicus and non-mycorrhizal Arabidopsis mutants colonized with soil-based fungi.
Groups: Marcel Bucher and Stan Kopriva (UoC)

UoC_C: Genomic basis of Arabis nemorensis ecological adaptation to the Rhine floodplains

Our contemporary societies are marked by rapid habitat degradation. Restoring an environment after its destruction is a difficult task. In this context, understanding the population genetics and history of key species in endangered ecosystems has become crucial. This project will investigate the population genomics of Arabis nemorensis, a key species in species-rich floodplain meadows, which form a shrinking yet ecologically unique habitat. An analysis of polymorphism and divergence throughout the genome will highlight genes targeted by natural selection in this species with singular ecology.
Group: Juliette de Meaux (UoC)

Eight projects at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research (MPIPZ):


MPI_A: Genetic factors of stamen maturation in barley

The plant hormone jasmonate promotes the terminal stages of stamen development, including filament elongation and anther dehiscence, which result in anthers correctly positioned close to pistils and in pollen release. We are currently establishing barley as a model system to study these processes in cereals. The goal of this project is to identify and characterize factors necessary for barley jasmonate signaling, filament elongation and anther dehiscence. The project will use a combination of genetics, genomics, histology and bioimaging to achieve this goal.
Group: Ivan F. Acosta (MPIPZ)

MPI_B: Understanding the cis-regulatory code of chromatin-mediated repression in plants

The evolutionary conserved Polycomb Group (PcG) pathway provides a mechanism for gene repression by chromatin compaction. We have recently identified a cis-regulatory element that is correlated to PcG target genes inArabidopsis thaliana. The aim of the proposed project is to establish the role of the candidate cis-element in PcG target gene regulation in higher plants. The ideal candidate for this project is a molecular biologist with a strong motivation to learn basic scripting and command line tools to perform bioinformatics analysis.
Group: Franziska Turck (MPIPZ)

MPI_C: An evolutionary framework for plant environmental stress signaling 

Mechanisms for coping with contrasting biotic and abiotic stresses in the environment are fundamental for plant survival and adaptation. In this project we will use protein phylogenetic and structural data on a plant disease resistance signaling node to investigate the extent of its evolutionary conservation between a dicot species, Arabidopsis, and a monocot crop, barley (Hordeum vulgare). In Arabidopsis, the resistance node controls transcriptional decision making between different stress hormone pathways. We will explore whether the same transcriptional functions are maintained in barley.    
Group: Jane Parker (MPIPZ) and Maria von Korff (HHU/MPIPZ)

MPI_D: In planta bacterial transcriptome analysis in Arabidopsis thalianaand its relatives

Despite accumulated knowledge about plant immune responses triggered by recognition of bacterial pathogens, very little is known about how plants suppress bacterial growth. In this project, we will tackle this major remaining question by analyzing in planta bacterial transcriptome and proteome inArabidopsis thaliana and its relatives using RNA-seq and quantitative proteomics.In planta bacterial profiles will provide fundamental insights into our understanding of bacterial growth suppression mechanisms by plant immunity. During the course of the study, the PhD student will gain a broad range of state-of-art skills in genetics, molecular biology, and bioinformatics.
Group: Kenichi Tsuda (MPIPZ)

MPI_E: The role of mechanical signals in shaping the Arabidopsis sepal

Recent studies suggest that plant cells can sense forces, and respond to stress by reorienting microtubules, which in turn direct cellulose synthase complexes. This suggests that stress may play a signaling role in morphogensis by influencing cell wall anisotropy and growth. The Arabidopsis sepal is an easily accessible organ that is remarkably uniform in shape, although it has very large variability in shape at the cellular level. Since cell shape can greatly affect stresses in the cell wall, the sepal provides an excellent system to explore the role of mechanical signals in morphogenesis. In this project we will perform mechanical measurements on the sepal using osmotic treatments and the Cellular Force Microscopy system that has recently been developed in the Smith lab. Combined with high resolution growth tracking using MorphoGraphX (, we aim to understand the role of mechanical signaling in guiding sepal shape.
Group: Richard S. Smith (MPIPZ)

MPI_F: Genome-wide association studies to define components and mechanisms underlying an evolutionarily conserved NLR-mediated immune response

Intracellular nucleotide-binding oligomerization domain (NOD)-like receptors (NLRs) are key components of the innate immune system of plants. This proposal aims to unravel an evolutionarily conserved 1) recognition mechanism for pathogen effectors involving allelic MLA receptors and 2) MLA immune signaling using genome-wide association studies with isolates of the powdery mildew fungus Blumeria graminis f. sp. hordei (Bgh) and ecotypes of Arabidopsis thaliana, respectively. The former project will also provide insights into the evolutionary history of pathogen effectors in response to the host immune surveillance.
Group: Paul Schulze-Lefert (MPIPZ) and Takaki Maekawa

MPI_G: The role of cell geometry and anisotropy in explosive pod shatter

The aim of this project is to identify the mechanics and genetics underpinning developmental changes in cell shape and anisotropy that drive explosive pod shatter in Cardamine hirsuta. This plant stores elastic energy in its fruit tissues before rapidly transforming it into kinetic energy to ballistically disperse its seeds. In this project, we will identify key genetic components of the energy storage mechanism in C. hirsuta fruit.
Group: Angela Hay (MPIPZ)

MPI_H: Identification of target genes of the Reduced Complexity (RCO)transcription factor

Leaves present an iconic and prevalent example of biodiversity as they are abundant in the biosphere and show striking variation in shape. However, it is not clear how such diversity is generated.  Leaf form can be classified as simple, where the leaf blade is entire like in the model plant A. thaliana, or dissected (compound) where the blade is divided into leaflets. In the past few years we have made key contributions to understanding the genetic pathways underlying leaf shape diversity by developing the A. thaliana relative C. hirsuta into a powerful experimental system to study diversification of leaf form in an unbiased fashion. We leverage the simple genetics and transformation in both species to understand the mechanistic basis for leaf shape evolution. Recently we discovered the RCO gene which encodes a homeodomain protein required for leaflet formation (Vlad et al., 2014). We also showed that RCO evolved in the Brassicaceae family through gene duplication and was lost in A. thaliana, contributing to leaf simplification in this species. Thus RCO provided a rare example of gene whose presence or absence in the genome of two closely related species is sufficient to explain a large component of their morphological diversity. To understand how RCO exerts its effects on leaf development we propose to isolate RCO target genes and study their functions.
Group: Miltos Tsiantis (MPIPZ)

Read More/Apply Onlineimage

The IMPRS is intended for highly motivated students with a strong training in plant molecular sciences. The constellation of participating institutions provides excellent conditions in the area of plant sciences with expertise in molecular plant genetics, plant biochemistry, cell biology, bioinformatics, and mathematical modelling of biological processes.