PhD Position (Evolution & Gene Regulation): Molecular regulation of reproduction in insect societies

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 back 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 “Evolution and gene regulation”, the IPP research group of Dr Romain Libbrecht
offers the following PhD project:

Molecular regulation of reproduction in insect societies
The main feature of social insects is the reproductive division of labor, whereby queens monopolize reproduction while sterile workers perform other tasks to maintain the colony. Investigating the molecular mechanisms regulating reproduction and division of labor in ants is necessary to understand the evolution and ecological success of insect societies. A common approach to study reproductive division of labor is to compare queen and worker castes. However, queens and workers not only differ in reproductive activity but also in morphology, lifespan, etc. In this context, the clonal raider ant Ooceraea biroi has emerged as a powerful study system to investigate gene regulatory processes and the molecular regulation of reproduction. These ants produce female offspring by parthenogenesis, and colonies alternate between a queen-like phase when larvae are absent (all ants reproduce), and a worker-like phase when larvae are present (all ants stop reproducing to care for the brood). This allows the collection of genetically identical individuals only differing in their reproductive activity, thus facilitating the study of molecular mechanisms regulating reproduction.
The goal of this PhD project is to identify the gene regulatory mechanisms underlying gene expression changes modulating reproduction in O. biroi. To achieve this goal, you will identify putative gene regulatory mechanisms associated with reproduction, and investigate the functional link between social cues (presence of larvae), regulatory mechanisms, gene expression, and reproduction.
The genome, transcriptome and methylome of O. biroi are already available, and O. biroi mutants have been recently generated using the Crispr/Cas9 system. Since the lab previously found that DNA methylation was unlikely to regulate reproduction in O. biroi, you will use RNAseq and ChIPseq to focus on other mechanisms susceptible to regulate gene expression and reproduction (e.g., ncRNAs, histone modifications). You will also manipulate the presence of larvae, and use RNAi or Crispr/Cas9 to investigate the functional links between candidate regulatory mechanisms, gene expression and reproduction. This project will shed light on the regulation and evolution of reproductive division of labor in insect societies, as well as on how gene regulation can translate social cues into physiological changes.

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-RL

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...

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