PhD Position (Evolution & Gene Regulation): Gene regulation and division of labour

The IPP Mainz summer call 2019 is open.

Thinking of doing your PhD in Molecular Biology? The International PhD Programme (IPP) on “Epigenetics, Gene Regulation & Genome Stability” is offering talented, young scientists the chance to work at the cutting edge of research. The IPP has a community of exceptional scientists working on diverse topics. These range from how organisms age or how our DNA is repaired, to how epigenetics regulates cellular identity or neural memory. This means that no matter where your PhD project takes you, there is always someone to go to for advice or collaborations.

As part of the IPP, you will be given advanced training, covering skills needed for both research and industry. Access to our state-of-the-art Core Facilities and their technical expertise ensures that you are supported no matter how challenging or expansive your project becomes. Importantly, as an IPP student, you are offered a fully funded position with financing until the completion of your thesis. To help you integrate and settle in Mainz, IPP students organise and run a lively social programme with activities to suit everyone.

The IPP is coordinated by the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) —a modern research centre located on the bustling campus of Mainz University in Germany. The IPP currently has over 120 energetic students from 30 countries working on innovative research at IMB, Mainz University and its University Medical Centre.

Are you an ambitious, young scientist looking to push the boundaries of science while interacting with colleagues from multiple disciplines and cultures? Then the IPP is your opportunity to give your scientific career a flying start!

Activities and responsibilities

In the field of “Molecular regulation of social life”, the IPP research group of Prof. Susanne Foitzik offers the following PhD project:

Gene regulation and division of labour

Social insects are models for the evolution of phenotypic plasticity as variation in gene expression chiefly controls caste development. Social insect workers specialise in specific tasks and this division of labour contributes to the ecological success of insect societies. Task specialisation is mostly neither genetically determined nor rigid, but changes with age and in response to colony needs. Typically, young workers takeover brood care, whereas older workers focus on risky tasks such as foraging. Indeed, the expression of behavioural genes shifts with the tasks of workers and histone acetylation can regulate task-specific gene expression.

The Foitzik lab hypothesizes that additional gene regulatory mechanisms, such as histone or DNA methylation are involved and may interact in regulating division of labour. They aim to understand how all of these regulatory processes respond to external cues, the expression of which genes they alter and how fast they can change gene expression. The lab analyzed division of labour, the expression and functions of task-specific genes, and the importance of histone acetylation for their expression in the ant Temnothorax longispinosus. Theory posits that task switching requires shifts in responsiveness to task related cues and indeed, the lab has identified a gene, vitellogenin-like A that regulates task allocation and social cue responsiveness. Once knocked down via RNAi, young workers reduce brood- but increase nestmate care, a behaviour usually exhibited by older workers. This behavioural change was accompanied by a vg-like A dependent shift in worker responsiveness from brood to adult worker cues. An experimental set-up allowed us to disentangle task from age and the following transcriptome analysis resulted in four times more genes linked to task than to age. Finally, the administration of the histone acetyltransferase (HAT) inhibitor C646 impeded the switch of foragers back to brood care, but promoted the reversed change from brood care to foraging. HAT inhibition did not affect workers continuing to execute the same tasks, pointing to the role of histone acetyltransferase in altering gene expression. HAT activity keeps young workers in a “brood caring mode”, possibly to prevent them from leaving the nest prematurely.

As a PhD student in the Foitzik lab, you will use ChipSeq analyses to identify genes associated with de-acetylated histones due to inhibition of C646 and will analyze the associated changes in gene expression. You will a) experimentally influence gene regulation using various epigenetic inhibitors, followed up by a behavioural readout and Chip-, RNA and ATAC Seq-analyses, to link the behavioural phenotype to gene expression and regulatory mechanisms e.g. splicing, b) study RNA and DNA methylation in the brain by reduced representation bisulfite sequencing, c) investigate which brain neuropils are responsible for behavioural changes (e.g. mushroom body, antennal lobes). You will collaborate with IPP group leaders Peter Baumann and Susanne Gerber on Chip Seq and ATAC seq analyses. This project will deepen the understanding of the molecular regulation of division of labour in social insects.

Qualification profile

Required qualifications
  • Master or equivalent
  • Motivation to work at the forefront of science
  • Interactive personality & good command of English
Further requirement:
  • 2 letters of reference


We offer
  • The possibility to work on exciting, multidisciplinary projects using state-of-the-art technology in highly motivated research teams
  • To be part of a lively and international community of about 120 IPP students from 30 countries
  • Numerous opportunities for advanced professional training in scientific knowledge, techniques and professional skills
  • Fully funded positions until completion of thesis
Starting date: 1 August 2019 – 1 February 2020
Duration of stipend/salary: 3 years, with the possibility of extension

Deadline for registration (exclusively online via web form): 22 May 2019

Send application to

Please find all relevant information on the application process at:

While applying for the job please refer to jobvector and use the following reference number: JV-C17-SF1

About Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH

Our International PhD Programme on the “Gene Regulation, Epigenetics and DNA Damage Response” gives talented and enthusiastic students the opportunity to undertake PhD research at the cutting edge of modern biology. Our groups cover a broad range of expertise and include leading biochemists, geneticists, cell and developmental biologists who study the molecular mechanisms of embryonic...
More about Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH