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2018 International CRAG PhD Program

Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad

The Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG) is advertising six 4-year PhD positions for 2019. Doctoral students enrolled in the PhD Program at CRAG will obtain their PhD Degree from either the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) or the University of Barcelona (UB). More information about the doctoral program at CRAG can be found here:  http://www.cragenomica.es/crag-phd-program

If interested in applying, please carefully read the Application requirements and procedure and check out all available projects.

Application deadline is Thursday August 30, 2018. Applicants will be selected by the Principal Investigator responsible for the chosen project or projects (candidates may apply to more than one project). Successful applicants will start their PhD projects in autumn 2019.

This four-year PhD grant is funded by the “National Programme for the Promotion of Talent and its Employability 2018” from the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities. 

Application requirements and procedure


The program is aimed at international students who have completed one of the following options by July 2019:

  • studies that lead to an official Spanish (or from another country of the European Higher Education Area) university degree in Biology, Biochemistry, Biotechnology, or related areas and that have 300 credits (ECTS), of which at least 60 must correspond to master level.
  • a degree in a non-Spanish university not adapted to the European Higher Education Area that gives access to doctoral studies in Biology, Biochemistry, Biotechnology or related areas.

2. Candidates are selected exclusively on merit, on the basis of their curriculum. Academic grades and the curriculum of applicants are evaluated, as well as reference letters and a motivation letter. No selection criteria for positive or negative discrimination are applied.

3. Candidates cannot be in possession a PhD Degree.

4. Candidates cannot have been hired as predoctoral students for more than 12 months before the start of the PhD Program.

5. Candidates cannot have started a pre-doctoral fellowship funded by the Spanish “Plan Estatal de Investigación, Desarrollo e Innovación Tecnológica” or any previous “Plan Nacional”.

How to apply

Applicants should send the application materials directly to the Principal Investigator of the project or projects they are interested in. Contact details are:

Contact Details 

Applicants will be asked to submit the following documents:

  • Curriculum vitae
  • A motivation letter, including a brief summary of work experience and a statement of research interests and career goals (2 pages maximum).
  • A scanned copy of the student’s certified Academic Record, including a detailed record of study / transcript (a list of attended courses and corresponding grades): these documents must show the grades attained in exam periods.
  • Copy of passport (international applicants only).
  • Any additional files considered relevant to the application, but please only provide documents that are important to support it. Do not overload the application with certificates and documents of lesser significance.

In addition, applicants must ensure the submission of two reference letters from university lecturers or scientists with whom the applicant has studied or worked. Letters should be sent directly by the referees to the Principal Investigator of the requested project, and should also be received by the application deadline, August 30, 2018.  Only letters with official letterhead and signature will be accepted. Candidates are responsible for ensuring that referees submit these letters, and should consider that referees may need some time to prepare and send their letters within the deadline. Applications without reference letters will not be considered.

Please download referee request.

The doctoral program is in English. Therefore, a good knowledge of English is absolutely required. We encourage candidates to support the application with scores of internationally valid language exams like TOEFL or other tests. However, they are not mandatory: a verifiable education in English, or a reasonably long stay in an English speaking country are also convincing.

More information on the research activities of each of the research groups participating in this call can be found at CRAG website.

Applicants must submit information in English (CV, and motivation letter including summary of work experience). If the certified academic records are not in English, Catalan or Spanish, applicants must also attach a translation in one of these languages.

Applicants should send all the required documents as PDF files of less than 10MB.

Please note that we can only consider applications that are complete.

Selection procedure

Applications will be reviewed by the Principal Investigators that will host the fellows, and preselected according to their written application, grades, and reference letters. 

Short-listed candidates will be interviewed by the Principal Investigator.

These PhD positions are funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (MINECO) and CRAG. CRAG will assist the selected candidates to submit the required documents at the Spanish MINECO website in fall 2018. Applicants who have not been successful but have received a positive evaluation may be put on a waiting list to cover possible renunciations and future positions.

Available Projects

  • The hidden nature of the Arabidopsis peptidome: Analyses of the Arabidopsis flower development gene regulatory network (2018 CRAG SO – 2)

Principal Investigator: José Luis Riechmann

The current global, dynamic view of the gene regulatory networks underlying plant development is primarily based on measuring gene expression at the transcriptome level, thus overlooking the substantial role that is played by regulatory processes occurring after mRNA is made. Moreover, evidence has accumulated over the past few years pointing to the existence of a substantial but uncharted fraction of the eukaryotic proteome that is mainly composed of small proteins (peptidome), of roles and functions yet to be discovered. Recent advances in proteomics and high-throughput analyses of translating RNAs (ribosome profiling) have begun to address this challenge, and evidence for functional peptides encoded by sORFs is accumulating. Using Arabidopsis flower development as the model and primary experimental system, the research projects aims to address two key questions: what is the nature and extent of the Arabidopsis peptidome? And, what are the specific functions carried out by this potential myriad of novel peptides/small proteins? Research will involve a combination of genomic, proteomic, genetic technologies as well as bioinformatic approaches.

  • New biotechnological tools to improve production and storage of vitamins A and E in plant cells (BIO2017-84041-P)

Principal Investigator: Manuel Rodríguez-Concepción

Enriching agricultural products in health-promoting bioactive metabolites is a major strategic goal to achieve optimal nutrition and a healthier diet. Yet breeding and biotechnological approaches aimed to boost the production and accumulation of phytonutrients in crops are often unsuccessful, in part due to our limited knowledge of how plant metabolism is regulated. Our work focuses on plastidial isoprenoids of nutritional interest such as carotenoids (pro-vitamin A) and tocopherols (vitamin E). One of the major conclusions of this work is that enhancing the levels of these plastid-localized phytonutrients in plant-derived products should take into account both their coordinated biosynthesis (i.e. increasing metabolic flux while maintaining metabolic balance) and their storage in appropriate structures. The project will investigate how metabolic flux to carotenoids and tocopherols is controlled by strategic enzymes controlling rate-limiting or branching steps in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum). As a second objective, we aim to enhance the capacity of plant cells to store these lipophilic metabolites.

  • Functional genomics, systems biology, and microbiomics applied to the identification of genetic regulators of growth, fatness, and meat quality traits in pigs (AGL2017-82641-R)

Principal Investigator: Josep Maria Folch

Meat quality traits, including sensorial, nutritional, and human health effects, are receiving an increasing interest. The knowledge of the genes affecting these traits is essential to improve the quality of pork-derived products and may represent a good model for human obesity-related diseases. Genomic tools have allowed the identification of quantitative trait loci (QTLs) associated with relevant traits, but only for a few QTLs the identification of causal genetic variants have been achieved in pigs. New genomic methods allow the generation of different layers of information between the phenotype and the genotypes. Several QTLs of commercial interest have been identified in our group, including growth, shape, carcass quality, meat quality, and fatty acid composition. A large number of positional candidate genes have also been analysed and genetic variants have been identified. We have recorded phenotypic data for these traits, whole genome SNP genotypes, and microarrays and RNA-Seq expression data. In addition, the microbiome composition along the pig gut has been studied. The student will work actively in this project combining the last molecular genetics and genomics techniques with the bioinformatics data analysis. The major goals are to identify genomic regions regulating gene expression and to characterize differentially expressed genes, gene networks, and key regulators of the analysed traits. In addition, the role of the metagenome on growth and fatty acid composition traits will be studied.

  • The role of glycosylated sterols in the tomato stress response. Molecular bases and agronomical applications (AGL2017-88842-R)

Principal Investigators: Albert Ferrer, Teresa Altabella

The intensive greenhouse cultivation of tomato makes this valuable crop highly susceptible to fungal, bacterial and viral infections. Field tomato growth can also be hampered by adverse conditions like drought or extreme temperatures. The development of pest and abiotic stress resistant tomato varieties is thus a major challenge in sustainable agriculture. Unlike other plants, tomato has a very high content of steryl glucosides (SGs) and acylated SGs. Free and glycosylated sterols play essential roles in maintaining membrane structure and function and it has been proposed that they might be involved in modulating the responses to different types of stress. The characterization of the four tomato SGT isozymes involved in SG biosynthesis in a previous project, allows us to undertake this new interdisciplinar project intended to elucidate the specific contribution of each SGT in tomato SG biosynthesis, using modelling tools and genetic approaches. Moreover, wide-genome and metabolomic analyses will help us to elucidate the role of glycosilated sterols in plant development and adaptation to biotic and abiotic stress, and the mechanism by which these metabolites exert their effects. Moreover, given the essential role that plant cell membranes and free sterols play in virus replication in the infected cells, the role of SGs in plant virus replication will also be investigated, thus opening up the possibility of identifying a new target to improve resistance to this class of pathogens. Finally, efficient protocols to transform commercial tomato cultivars will also be implemented to transfer the alleles of interest identified in Micro-Tom to these cultivars.