Graduate position: UCentralFlorida.AntParasites

PhD position in Integrative and Conservation biology at the University
> of Central Florida (Orlando, FL, USA)
> As part of our NSF CAREER project (Award Number 1941546), we have a fully
> funded PhD position available in the Parasitic Behavioral Manipulation
> Lab headed by Dr Charissa de Bekker in the Department of Biology at the
> University of Central Florida, to investigate the molecular mechanisms
> that fungal parasites use to manipulate ant behavior.
> Background Information
> Infected animals generally behave differently from healthy animals. These
> changes can go beyond mere sickness behaviors to reflect precise
> manipulations induced by parasites to increase that parasite’s chances
> to spread. How manipulative parasites can alter host behavior is currently
> unknown. The behaviorally tractable “zombie ant system” has the
> potential to expose the mechanisms underlying parasitic behavioral
> manipulation and fundamentally transform perceptions of parasite-host
> interactions and their behavioral ecology effects. Our lab uses
> these fungus-infected “zombie ants” as a model to systematically
> quantify disease progression and accompanying behavioral phenotypes,
> to determine where sickness behavior ends, where manipulation begins,
> and which intricate molecular mechanisms are involved.
> What would you be working on?
> The goal of this PhD project will be to better understand 1) how ant
> behavior changes throughout infection; 2) how ant and fungal tissues
> interact throughout this progression; 3) reveal which genes and pathways
> from both parasite and host give rise to behavioral phenotypes; and
> 4) elucidate the functions of these genes and pathways. The work that
> the PhD researcher will perform will span the integration of multiple
> technological approaches to understand how zombie-making fungi of
> the genus Ophiocordyceps interact with ants; from the molecular
> level to the behavioral output displayed by the whole organism. The
> integrative research activities of this project will prepare them
> for an increasingly cross-disciplinary STEM job market. Moreover,
> the project will leverage the public’s interest in zombie-making
> parasites to create immersive pedagogies for teaching biology to a
> diverse student population. As such, the PhD investigator will also be
> involved in the development of a research-based, educational virtual
> reality experience about microbial infections and insects that we
> plan to take to K-12 schools, museums and fairs. For more detailed
> information about the project, please visit the NSF website at:
> Who are we looking for?
> We are looking for motivated candidates who would be eager to perform
> integrative research that spans multiple disciplines within the broad
> field of biology. To be considered for this PhD position, candidates
> should have a strong interest in either (or al)l of the following:
> the molecular workings of parasite-host interactions and parasitic
> manipulations, ant behavior, and/or fungal biology. Having experience in
> live insect husbandry, quantitative behavioral analyses and programming
> (i.e., behavioral tracking and coding to analyze data) or molecular
> microbiology (e.g., CRISPR-Cas technology, cloning techniques, fungal
> culturing and transformation) will be considered a big plus. Already
> having a master’s degree is also perceived as favorable, together
> with a good working knowledge in statistics and experimental design. It
> is desirable that candidates are passionate about science, creative,
> motivated to participate in scientific outreach and have excellent oral
> and written communication skills. Candidates will also need to be able
> to work both independently and as part of a team.
> The PhD position
> The position will be part of an NSF CAREER project team consisting of
> two PhD students and several undergraduate students. Because of the
> collaborative nature of our lab, the candidate will also be working with
> a post-doctoral scholar and a PhD student who work on closely related
> projects. The position will be fully funded for 4 years such that the
> candidate will receive a maintenance stipend, tuition fees will be
> covered and travel to two conferences per year will be covered.
> Preferred starting date
> August 1st, 2020 or later (flexible)
> The Location
> The University of Central Florida is an emerging preeminent research
> university located in metropolitan Orlando. According to U.S. News &
> World Report’s Best Colleges of 2019 guide, UCF ranks among the
> nation’s 10 most innovative universities. UCF is also ranked as a
> best-value university by Kiplinger, as well as one of the nation’s
> most affordable colleges by Forbes. The university confers almost 17,000
> degrees each year and benefits from a diverse faculty and staff who
> create a welcoming environment and opportunities for all students to
> grow, learn and succeed. The College of Sciences is the largest college
> of UCF with programs spanning the natural, computational, social, and
> behavioral sciences. The Biology Department consists of faculty with
> diverse interests ranging from ecology and conservation, to evolution and
> genetics, and physiology and behavior. Research facilities available to
> students include a new insectary, curated insect collection, greenhouses,
> field sites close to campus as well as collaborations with field stations
> throughout Central Florida, a state-of-the-art genomics core facility,
> general molecular microbiology equipment and a range of microscopes.
> How to apply?
> Please send your application, or any questions related to this position,
> by email to  Your application should consist
> of a single merged pdf file that includes the following:
> –    a full CV and publication list
> –    a research statement of 1-2 pages describing your past research
>     experience, current research interests, motivation to apply to the
>     PhD position advertised, and why you are a suitable candidate for
>     this project
> –    the names and contact details of at least two referees
> –    copies of (or links to) your publications and/or your Master’s
>     thesis (if available).
> We will begin the evaluation of candidates on March 1st, 2020 and continue
> until the position is filled.
> Charissa De Bekker <>