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PhD studentship in Pseudomonas syringae ecology at the University of Akureyri, Iceland


We’re seeking a highly motivated PhD student to work on a fully funded project on Pseudomonas syringae ecology and its reservoirs in Arctic heathland habitats. The project is funded for 36 months, starting in summer 2020.


The project

Survival and proliferation of plant pathogens in non-agricultural environments is an emerging field of research that is rapidly expanding knowledge of how non-host reservoirs serve critical roles in the epidemiology of plant diseases. The occurrence of strains in the Pseudomonas syringae complex - known for their pathogenicity to many crops of critical importance for food and forests - in the lichens characteristic of Arctic heathlands raises intriguing questions regarding adaptation of this group of bacteria to stressful environments and the impact that these adaptations could have on pathogenicity and disease epidemiology. In this project, initial work will involve field expeditions, to assure that the full genetic diversity of members of the P. syringae complex – beyond what has currently been described – can be harvested from the complex microbial communities associated with lichens. This will involve pastorian microbiology as well as molecular characterization of strains to establish a library of strains from lichens and other potential sources in several Icelandic heathland and fjell field habitats. The strains will be phylotyped using established methods, genomes of different phylotypes compared, key features of their adaptation to environmental stressors relevant to their habitats will be determined, and their plant virulence potential explored both through genomic characterization and in planta. The study will thus seek answers to questions on the distribution and spread of P. syringae in lichens in Icelandic habitats, other potential sources of this group of bacteria in these habitats, adaptations to the endolichenic environment, and whether lichen can be considered reservoirs for plant-pathogenic P. syringae of potential concern to Icelandic agriculture or horticulture.  


The main supervisor of the PhD student will be Professor Oddur Vilhelmsson at the Faculty of Natural Resource Sciences (UnAk-FNRS). Other advisors are Dr. Auður Sigurbjörnsdóttir (UnAk-FNRS), Dr. Cindy Morris at the French National Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE), Dr. Odile Berge (INRAE), Professor Robert Jackson at the University of Birmingham, and Dr. Starri Heiðmarsson at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History. The bulk of the work will be carried out at the UnAk laboratories in Akureyri, but the student will also attend secondments in Birmingham and Avignon.


The role of the doctoral student

In accordance with the rules and regulations for doctoral studies at the University of Akureyri, the student will prepare and submit their own study plan, and otherwise submit to the obligations and attain the rights of doctoral students at UnAk. The doctoral studies will conclude with the public defense of a PhD thesis consisting of peer-reviewed publications in internationally recognized academic journals.



A successful applicant will have a first-class M.Sc.-degree or equivalent in a relevant field, such as microbiology, biochemistry, molecular genetics, or environmental science. They will furthermore have experience of or demonstrable competence in common microbiology and molecular biology laboratory skills, such as culturing of bacteria, PCR, and electrophoresis. Competence in data processing and statistics is also desired. The applicant will furthermore have a genuine, interest in science, as well as a willingness to learn new methods of research and excellent interpersonal and collaborative skills. Excellent reading, writing and communication skills in English are an absolute must. 


Application process

Applications for doctoral student positions at the University of Akureyri are twofold. Firstly, the applicant applies to relevant research project should be submitted to the principal investigator for that project (in this instance, prof. Oddur Vilhelmsson, This application should consist of:

  1. A cover letter, wherein the applicant states the reasons for their interest in the project, explains how they fulfill the eligibility criteria, and outlines their proposed contribution to the project.

  2. A curriculum vitae, listing all relevant qualifications and work experience.

  3. A copy of any relevant diplomas and/or transcripts.

  4. Contact information of at least two reference persons.


Secondly, once the successful applicant has been offered a place in the research project, formal application for admission into the doctoral studies programme should be prepared under the supervision of the main advisor. Guidance can also be obtained from the doctoral studies programme at


Further information

Salaries and benefits are according to the Union of University Teachers at the University of Akureyri contract. The University of Akureyri ( strives for equality regarding age, gender, race, nationality, and sexual orientation. The project is fully funded by a grant from the Icelandic Research Fund.


The application deadline is March 31st 2020. The applicant should be able to commence employment in June 2020.


For further information, please contact Professor Oddur Vilhelmsson at

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