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Functional analysis of drought tolerance promoting endophytes in the growth zone of maize leaves


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  Dr Hamada AbdElgawad, Prof Beemster Gerrit  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Research project 

In addition to the growth promoting interactions between the soil microbiome and plants there is growing evidence that areal plant tissues have their own microbiome of endophytes. Several of these stimulate growth under optimal or limiting conditions, providing a potential for a sustainable enhancement of crop productivity, but how they affect the growing tissues is largely unclear. The aim of the research project is to study the effects of endophytic fungi and bacteria on maize leaf growth regulation under optimal and drought conditions. Endophytic bacteria and fungi isolated from the leaf growth zone of grasses growing in arid conditions will be functionally characterised using a multidisciplinary approach. This will involve culturing and in planta testing of isolates for their effect on leaf growth under optimal and drought conditions. The genome of growth promoting isolates will sequenced, annotated and phylogenetically analysed. Functional analysis of the endophytes in planta will include kinematic analysis of cell division and expansion in the leaf growth zone, flowcytometry, NGS sequencing (plant and endophytic mRNA), metabolome analysis and quantification of endophyte numbers under control and drought conditions. The impact of the plant on endophyte development will be tested by comparing the colonisation and growth effects in maize varieties and selected mutants.

Job description

  • You conduct research with a focus on molecular plant physiology and/or bioinformatics.
  • You prepare a doctoral thesis in Plant Science.
  • You publish scientific articles in high impact journals.
  • You actively contribute to the functioning of the research group.
  • You contribute to teaching in the department of Biology.

Profile and requirements

  • You obtained a master degree in Biology, Biochemistry or Bio-engineering.
  • You can demonstrate outstanding academic results.
  • Students in the final year of their degree can apply if the degree is awarded this academic year, i.e. before October 1, 2022.
  • Foreign candidates are encouraged to apply.
  • Your academic qualities comply with the requirements stipulated in the university’s policy.
  • You are quality-oriented, conscientious, creative and cooperative.
  • You are fluent in English (written and spoken).
  • You have experience with molecular biology or bioinformatics and preferentially also with genomics.
  • You have good knowledge of developmental and molecular biology of plants.

We offer

  • A doctoral scholarship for a period of two years, with the possibility of renewal for a further two-year period after positive evaluation.

·       The start date of the scholarship will October 1 2022.

·       Reimbursement of public transport or a bicycle allowance. 

·       A dynamic and stimulating work environment.

The University of Antwerp is a family friendly organization, with a focus on equal opportunities and diversity. Our HR-policy for researchers was awarded by the European Commission with the quality label 'HR Excellence in research'.

Funding Notes



AbdElgawad H, El-Sawah AM, Mohammed AE, Alotaibi MO, Yehia RS, Selim S, Saleh AM, Beemster GTS, Sheteiwy MS (2022) Increasing atmospheric CO2 differentially supports arsenite stress mitigating impact of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in wheat and soybean plants. Chemosphere 296:134044. doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2022.134044
Melandri G, AbdElgawad H, Flokova K, Jamar DC, Asard H, Beemster GTS, Ruyter-Spira C, Bouwmeester HJ (2021) Drought tolerance in selected aerobic and upland rice varieties is driven by different metabolic and antioxidative responses. Planta 254 (1):13. doi:10.1007/s00425-021-03659-4
AbdElgawad H, Zinta G, Abuelsoud W, Hassan YM, Alkhalifah DHM, Hozzein WN, Zrieq R, Beemster GTS, Schoenaers S (2021) An actinomycete strain of Nocardiopsis lucentensis reduces arsenic toxicity in barley and maize. Journal of Hazardous Materials. doi:10.1016/j.jhazmat.2021.126055
Nelissen H, Sun XH, Rymen B, Jikumaru Y, Kojima M, Takebayashi Y, Abbeloos R, Demuynck K, Storme V, Vuylsteke M, De Block J, Herman D, Coppens F, Maere S, Kamiya Y, Sakakibara H, Beemster GTS, Inze D (2018) The reduction in maize leaf growth under mild drought affects the transition between cell division and cell expansion and cannot be restored by elevated gibberellic acid levels. Plant Biotechnol J 16:615 - 627. doi:10.1111/pbi.12801
Avramova V, AbdElgawad H, Vasileva I, Petrova AS, Holek A, Mariën J, Asard H, Beemster GTS (2017) High Antioxidant Activity Facilitates Maintenance of Cell Division in Leaves of Drought Tolerant Maize Hybrids. Frontiers in Plant Science 8. doi:10.3389/fpls.2017.00084
Avramova V, Nagel KA, AbdElgawad H, Bustos D, DuPlessis M, Fiorani F, Beemster GTS (2016) Screening for drought tolerance of maize hybrids by multi-scale analysis of root and shoot traits at the seedling stage. J Exp Bot 67 (8):2453 - 2466. doi:doi:10.1093/jxb/erw055
Avramova V, AbdElgawad H, Zhang Z, Fotschki B, Casadevall R, Vergauwen L, Knapen D, Taleisnik E, Guisez Y, Asard H, Beemster GTS (2015) Drought induces distinct growth response, protection and recovery mechanisms in the maize leaf growth zone. Plant physiology 169:1382 - 1396. doi:10.1104/pp.15.00276
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