PhD Position (m/f/d) | Alkaloid Biosynthesis, Evolution and Engineering in Medicinal Plants

 The department of Natural Product Biosynthesis (Prof. Dr. Sarah E. O’Connor) at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena invites highly motivated candidates to apply for a 3-year PhD position to study alkaloid biosynthesis, evolution and engineering in medicinal plants. 

Project description

Plants produce countless chemically diverse natural products, or specialized metabolites. Alkaloids are a type of natural product that are widely used as medicines. If we discover the biosynthetic genes and enzymes that are responsible for the production of these medicinally important alkaloids, then we can use synthetic biology or engineering approaches to enable better access to these medicines. Ipecac alkaloids have been widely used pharmacological agents for many years. Interestingly, these compounds occur in two evolutionary distant plants suggesting that the biosynthetic pathways evolved independently; in other words, nature developed two different biosynthetic pathways for these molecules.

The aim of this PhD project is to discover the genes of the biosynthetic pathways of ipecac alkaloids in these two distantly related medicinal plant species. Then, the pathways can be compared, contrasted, and recombined using state of the art plant-based production platforms. The PhD candidate will use cutting edge metabolomics and transcriptomics approaches to identify enzyme candidates, screen for activities, characterize active enzymes in vitro and in vivo and reconstitute both natural and synthetic pathways. 

Candidate requirements

We are looking for a highly motivated candidate with training in biochemistry and molecular biology. Experience and good experimental skills in molecular techniques and mass spectrometry are an advantage. Knowledge about plant natural products, specialized metabolism or biochemistry is desirable but not essential. A Master’s degree (or equivalent) in Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Biotechnology or related disciplines is required for this position.

We are offering

a 4-year PhD position. Payment will be based on the tariff contracts for the public service (65% TVöD E13). We provide an excellent research environment with enthusiastic scientists from different nationalities in the department of Natural Product Biosynthesis led by Prof. S.E. O’Connor ( at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany ( The PhD student will be associated with the International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS,

How to apply

Please send your application as a single pdf in English including a letter of motivation and research interests, CV, relevant certificates (degree certificates etc.) and the name and address of at least one referee to Prof. O’Connor: .

Review of applications will begin on August 31st, 2022, and continue until the position is filled. The position is available from October 1st, 2022.

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