PhD in neuronal circuit development and evolution, CIG, UNIL (CH)

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Unil is a leading international teaching and research institution, with over 5’000 employees and 15’000 students split between its Dorigny campus, CHUV and Epalinges. As an employer, UNIL encourages excellence, individual recognition and responsibility.


Prof. Richard Benton ( at the Center for Integrative Genomics at UNIL is seeking a PhD student with a strong background and interest in neurobiology, developmental genetics and molecular biology.

Job information

Expected start date in position : 01.04.2021 / to be agreed

Contract length : 1 year, renewable, max 4 years

Activity rate : 100%

Workplace : University of Lausanne, Dorigny

Your responsibilities

How do new neuronal circuits evolve?

We approach this question in the olfactory system of Drosophila. Olfactory pathways are one of the most dynamically evolving parts of the nervous system: animals frequently acquire (and discard) olfactory receptors, circuits and odour-evoked behaviours with the ever-changing landscape of stimuli in their environment. The evolutionary flexibility of olfactory systems is reflected in their modular organisation: in insects (as in vertebrates), most individual olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) express just one olfactory receptor gene, and the axons of OSNs expressing the same receptor converge on discrete regions of neuropil (glomeruli) within the primary olfactory centre, where they synapse with second-order neurons. The numbers of olfactory receptors vary widely across species, with concordant diversity in the number and organisation of OSNs and glomeruli in the brain.

Using developmental genetics, single-cell sequencing and circuit tracing methods in the Drosophila peripheral olfactory system, our lab is studying:

(i) the mechanisms and evolution of olfactory receptors’ singular expression properties,

(ii) how novel populations of OSNs arise through changes in patterns of neurogenesis and developmental programmed cell death, and

(iii) how OSN populations are segregated to distinct glomeruli to form unique sensory channels in the brain, and how these guidance mechanisms are modified to create new glomeruli. The mechanisms and molecules we characterise are likely to be relevant for understanding circuit formation and evolution in other brain regions and species.

The specific PhD project will be developed together with the successful candidate in one of these topics, depending upon their interests and expertise.

Relevant references:

Ramdya and Benton, Trends Genetics (2010) 26(7):307-1

Chai et al., Nature Communications (2019) 10(1):643

Arguello et al., bioRxiv (2020) doi:10.1101/2020.07.08.191528

Prieto-Godino et al., Science Advances (2020) 6(11):eaaz7238

Although most of your time will be dedicated to your research project, you will also be involved in undergraduate teaching (e.g., practical class preparation, literature reading classes).

Your qualifications

  • A Master’s degree in molecular biology, genetics, developmental biology and/or neurobiology
  • Strong interests/skills in molecular biology, genetics, bioinformatics, developmental neurobiology
  • Excellent scientific writing, communication and interpersonal skills, self-motivation and independence

What the position offers you

You will be supervised by Prof. Richard Benton, in a diverse, dynamic and international research laboratory. The working language is English.

The Center for Integrative Genomics encompasses 15 research labs investigating diverse fields related to functional genomics and offers state-of-the-art experimental facilities. Beyond the training in the host laboratory, numerous possibilities exist at UNIL for further professional education (e.g., in bioinformatics, imaging, soft-skills, career development).

Contact for further information

Informal requests for information can be made by email to:

Your application

To apply you must upload as a single pdf document:

  • a CV, including your grades, and the name and contact details of 2-3 referees
  • a motivation letter in English describing (i) your past research experience and (ii) your scientific interests, and how they are a good match for the host laboratory

Deadline : 31.01.2021

Only applications through the University of Lausanne job portal will be taken into account (this website).

We thank you for your understaning.

Additional information

UNIL is committed to equal opportunities and diversity.