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We currently have 4 open PhD projects in the framework of the iGRAD-Plant program -  

a PhD program for early career scientits holding a bachelors degree 

The projects are available immediately and the application period is open until the projects are filled.


Excellent Bachelor’s degree or equivalent in biology, biochemistry, genetics, computer sciences, quantitative biology or a related field.

Please note: students who already hold a Master’s degree are NOT eligible to apply for this program.

Students who just started a 2-year master’s study program are eligible to apply.

Applicants who are not native speakers should demonstrate adequate competence of the English language by acceptable results of an internationally recognized test (e.g. TOEFL, IELTS).

  • Application form completely filled-in. Please read the guide „how to fill the application form“ before doing so
  • A Curriculum Vitae detailing education, training, and previous research experience
  • Transcripts of previous study, including credit hours, marks obtained and copies of relevant diplomas and degrees in English or German
  • Documentation of proficiency in the English language, such as TOEFL, IELTS, Duolingo (can be waived for native speakers or if the university education was conducted in English)
  • Two letters of reference from previous supervisors, send directly by the referee to: igrad-plant(at)hhu.de. 

Please send a complete electronic copy of your application as a single PDF (file size not exceeding 5 MB!) by email to igrad-plant(at)hhu.de. 

Do not send originals, documents will not be returned. We will request certified copies of documents once a selection of successful candidates has been made.

Qualification Program

The iGRAD-Plant Program offers a comprehensive, interdisciplinary PhD training program in the fields of molecular plant sciences, plant genetics, synthetic biology, quantitative biology and computer sciences comprising a 1-year qualification period followed by a 3-year doctoral research period, with total funding up to four years. Obtaining a M.Sc. between both phases is possible. Successful applicants will be enrolled at HHU Düsseldorf and will benefit from a structured supportive program with shared supervision and training in a wide range of transferable and scientific skills.


The program provides every student with a tax-free fellowship of €934 per month during the qualification year. After the qualification year and the admission to PhD studies at HHU students are funded with a position (50-65% EG 13 TV-L pay scale) for 3 years.

All iGRAD-Plant fellows have to enroll as doctoral researcher at Heinrich Heine University. The social contribution fee is approx. €315 per semester (winter term 2022/23). The social fee includes free public transportation in the area of North-Rhine Westphalia.


Extensive administrative support (visa, housing, health insurance, enrollment) for international students via the Welcome Center of the HHU Junior and International Researcher Center.

Project ID: 02

Computational analysis of resource allocation in photosynthesis under nutrient limitation

Supervising PI(s): Oliver Ebenhöh

Plants use photosynthesis to convert solar into chemical energy, which is then used to reduce and fix atmospheric carbon dioxide. Thus, the photosynthetic apparatus is absolutely essential for survival. On the other hand, constructing and maintaining the photosynthetic apparatus is also costly. The key enzyme RuBisCO alone makes up between 5 and 40% of total protein in plants, and thus represents a major nitrogen sink. Some proteins in the elctron transport chain have a rapid turnover time and thus maintenance requires considerable energy and mineral resources. Depending on the availability of mineral nutrients (in particular N, P, S, Fe, Mn), the resources to build and maintain the photosynthetic apparatus may be difficult to obtain.

In this project, we will employ mathematical models of photosynthesis and carbon fixation, previously developed in our group, to quantify costs associated with building and maintaining the components of the photosynthetic electron transport chain and the Calvin-Benson Cycle enzymes in dependence on nutrient availability. We will use the theoretical model to calculate optimal resource distributions to maximise photosynthetic efficiency and carbon fixation rate depending on the associated costs. Finally, we will combine these results to predict optimal compositions of the photosynthetic machinery in dependence on combinations of nutrient limitations. These results will support designing experiments to validate the model predictions and to test the hypothesis that resource allocation under nutrient limitation is optimal. Website Institute

Project ID 05

Mechanistic modeling of plant performance and evolution

Supervising PI(s): Martin Lercher

Plant performance is strongly influenced by interactions with abiotic factors, including climate, microclimate, and soil properties. Our group develops multi-scale computational models that estimate plant fitness from a mechanistic analysis of these connections, fully based on physical and chemical principles. They describe the interactions of water transport with detailed, molecular representations of photosynthesis and metabolism in a coarse-grained description of plant anatomy. This PhD project will extend the mechanistic models and apply them to model plant resource allocation, performance, and evolution in specific environments.    Website Institute

Project ID 08

Role of reproductive sink size as a driver for resource allocation in barley and Arabidopsis

Supervising PI(s): Rüdiger Simon

The initiation and development of seeds requires extensive resource allocation over prolonged time periods. However, the role of reproductive sink size (RSS) as a driver for resource allocation and photosynthetic activity remains underinvestigated. In the first funding period, we have used prior knowledge on meristem regulation from Arabidopsis to identify key regulatory signalling networks in barley that control meristem activities and, ultimately, the production of floral meristems and seeds. We generated a range of mutants that exhibit, compared to wildtype, altered floral meristem numbers, inflorescence meristem sizes and differ in seed number per inflorescences. The mutated gene functions will be analysed in detail to understand how meristem activities are controlled and coordinated along the inflorescence axis. Reporter lines for hormone signalling pathways and for sugar metabolites will be established in barley to identify bottlenecks for meristem number and productivity, and to infer changes in RSS feedback upon photosynthetic activity in leaves.    Website Institute

References: Kirschner, G.K., Stahl, Y., Imani, J., von Korff Schmising, M. and Simon, R. (2018) Fluorescent reporter lines for auxin and cytokinin signalling in barley (Hordeum vulgare). Plos ONE doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0196086

Project ID 12

Identifying the role of Arabidopsis TPS1 in regulating plant development

Supervising PI(s): Franziska Fichtner

Our previous studies established the regulatory potential of TPS1 and its key role in setting the levels of Tre6P in plant tissues (Fichtner et al., 2020). The nuclear localization of TPS1 in phloem cells (Fichtner et al., 2020) suggested that TPS1 might also have functions that are independent of its enzymatic activity. As the pTPS1:EcTPS lines were able to rescue shoot growth defects but not root growth defects it can be speculated that TPS1-dependent signalling is most important during root growth. This project will be elucidating the functions of TPS1 during root development. 

ReferencesFichtner F, Olas JJ, Feil R, Watanabe M, Krause U, Hoefgen R, Stitt M, Lunn JE. Functional Features of TREHALOSE-6-PHOSPHATE SYNTHASE1, an Essential Enzyme in Arabidopsis. Plant Cell. 2020 Jun;32(6):1949-1972. doi: 10.1105/tpc.19.00837




iGRAD-Plant Coordinator

Dr. Petra Fackendahl
Institute of Plant Biochemistry
Universitätsstr. 1
40225 Düsseldorf Gebäude: 26.24
Etage/Raum: U1.066
40225 Düsseldorf
+49 211 81-10588