Two open research positions for post-docs in Environmental Microbiology at KU Leuven

Two research positions are open at KU Leuven, Belgium, in the Environmental Microbiology group of Prof. Dirk Springael, team leader at the Division of Soil and Water Management, starting from between May-June – 2024 (or earlier). The positions are only open for researchers that do not have a Belgian nationality, that did not attain their PhD at a Belgian institute and that did not stay for a period of more than 24 months in the period before the start of the position in Belgium. Applicants should indicate for which position they are applying and can apply for both positions. Interested candidates should send their application to Prof. Dirk Springael (Tel: ++ 32 16 32 16 04; e-mail:, by e-mail, at the latest on February 28, 2024. The application must contain (1) a curriculum vitae, (2) publications record and study results, (3) a motivation letter, and (4) contact details of 2 persons for references. Information about the research group can be found at

Post-doc position 1 (two years): Deciphering the role of insertion elements in microbial community adaptation to anthropogenic environmental changes (Bilateral Flanders-China FWO project).
Horizontal gene transfer plays an essential role in the adaptation of microbial communities to anthropogenic environmental changes. Typical examples are adaptations that confer antibiotic resistance, metal resistance and catabolism of xenobiotic organic pollutants. Among the vehicles that govern HGT are conjugative elements and insertion sequence (IS) elements. Conjugative elements such as plasmids transfer the adaptive gene functions between different organisms while IS elements are thought to play an essential role in the acquisition of the adaptive traits by the conjugative elements as such making recruited traits prone to lateral transfer. While much information exists on the molecular mechanisms of IS transposition and IS mediated gene acquisition, less information exist, and this in contrast to plasmids, about the contribution of IS elements to HGT and microbial adaptation in a wider community context. The project aims to acquire a better understanding of the role of IS elements in genetic adaptation at the community level and the anthropogenic environmental drivers underlying IS mediated gene recruitment and HGT in complex communities. Using targeted metagenomics and innovative experimental design, it will examine the abundances and genetic cargo of specific IS elements in freshwater environments in Europe and China, and will explore their relationships with environmental parameters and anthropogenic selective pressures. In addition, the project foresees the development and application of genetic tools enabling monitoring of IS mediated gene recruitment using state-of-the-art genetic engineering approaches. This project makes part of a bilateral collaborative research project with Prof. Su Jian-Qiang of the Institute of Urban Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences and a research stay is foreseen in the lab in China. The selected candidate will work closely with three currently on-going PhDs in the research group and with the successful candidate of post-doc position 2.

Candidates must have a PhD degree in either environmental microbiology with expertise in metagenomics and microbial community composition analysis using high-throughput state-of-the-art sequencing approaches and relevant bio-informatics (including relevant wet-lab work) AND/OR in genomics, genetic engineering and related bioinformatics tools. Candidates must be also fluent in English.

Post-doc position 2 (three years): Microbial community dynamics and role of mobile genetic elements in Managed Aquifer Recharge systems for groundwater restoration (ERA-NET EU project MARSURE).
Managed aquifer recharge (MAR) refers to the purposeful recharge of water to aquifers for subsequent recovery, to increase groundwater availability and improve water quality while preventing resource deterioration. During MAR, water is infiltrated through soil and aquifer sediments, improving water quality. Although MAR is an established technology, the underlying microbial, geo-chemical, and hydrological processes during subsurface passage are not entirely understood, which limits predictions of expected water quality improvements. The ERA-NET EU project MARSURE aims at implementing and understanding next-generation hybrid MAR systems for groundwater restoration taking advantage of a range of controlled reactions and sequential multi-barrier pre- and in situ treatment concepts to achieve the needed reduction of pollutants while maintaining a low carbon footprint with no waste production including nutrients, trace metals, organic pollutants, pathogens, and antibiotic resistance genes (ARG). The project involves 7 partners from 6 EU countries. In the project, the KU Leuven group is responsible for tracking the microbial community dynamics in the MAR systems including composition and functionality, as a response to the implemented treatment conditions. The microbial community composition in MAR samples will be determined by Illumina 16SrRNA gene amplicon and metagenomic sequencing, identifying potential pathogenic taxa. The metagenomic data will also identify functionalities such as pollutant degradation, ARGs, pathogenic features. Special attention will be given to specific mobile genetic elements as accelerators of genetic adaptation and the traits they carry using targeted metagenomics. The selected candidate will work closely together with the other partners in the project performing the operation and management of the MAR systems at laboratory and pilot scale. The selected candidate will also work closely with three currently on-going PhDs in the research group and with the successful candidate of post-doc position 1.

Candidates must have a PhD degree in environmental microbiology with expertise in metagenomics and microbial community composition analysis using a combination of wet-lab work and high-throughput state-of-the-art sequencing approaches and relevant bio-informatics. The candidates must be fluent in English and have strong communication and organisatory skills.