PhD student on the influence of climate change on the microbial terroir of the vineyards (m/v/x)

This PhD is performed both at the Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium (RMI) as at the Laboratory for Process Microbial Ecology and Bioinspirational Management of Campus Group T (PME&BIM; Centre of Microbial and Plant Genetics; Department Microbial and Molecular Systems).


The Royal Meteorological Institute (RMI) tasks consist of providing general weather forecasts, to broadcast warnings for dangerous weather conditions, to keep an eye on climate, to gather, validate and archive meteorological and geophysical data, to manage the necessary infrastructure, and to develop numerical models and scientific research. The products and services of the RMI follow higher quality standards. The RMI is the national centre for data and knowledge on weather and climate.


PME&BIM is a member of the Leuven Institute for Beer Research (LIBR) and is internationally recognized for its expertise in microbial ecology and industrial microbiology. Within the research group an important focus is on the microbiome of vineyards.



Climate change is a major challenge in wine grape production, with disadvantage or beneficial effects according to the region concerned. There is a growing interest in regionally distinct wine characteristics (terroir) which develop during spontaneous fermentations taking advantage of the metabolic species (fungi & bacteria) present in grape musts. However, the relative abundance of microbial species present in grape must at harvest is dependent on the prevailing climatic factors and the cultivation practices during the growing and ripening season. A better understanding of the spatial and temporal distribution in the microbial diversity because of varying climatic conditions is required. This will enable viticulturists and winemakers to have a better understanding of the management practices and cellar interventions to produce terroir specific wines. Our aim is to characterize the grapevine microbiome in two grape internationally important cultivars ‘Chardonnay’ and ‘Pinot noir’ in three New World Wine producing countries, i.e. Belgium China and South Africa, and investigate the interplay between biodiversity and climate change in these wine regions/countries. The results will provide novel insights into the effects of climate on wine typicity directly or via influencing the diversity of microbiome in grape and pave ways for sustainable development of wine industry in face with the climate change.


We are looking for a dynamic and motivated PhD student, who will conduct innovative scientific research in the field of microbial ecology and applied bioinformatics. The use of various -omics tools implies that the ideal candidate should not only possess excellent laboratory skills, but also have a strong interest in the field of applied bioinformatics to analyse the large amounts of data generated. Furthermore, the researcher will be responsible for climate modelling of the different regions and should have a strong interest in mathematical modelling.

The research activities will result in a PhD at the Faculty of Engineering Technology (KU Leuven), with a clear practical applicative character. Intermediate results will be published in scientific journals. The candidate will also report results to interested companies and potential users. The researcher will be part of an extensive international research team and will have the opportunity to collaborate with fellow researchers, students, companies, and other research institutions.



The candidate:

  • Holds a master’s degree in engineering technology, bioscience engineering, biology or equivalent.
  • Has a strong interest and knowledge in the fields of microbiology, microbial ecology, mathematical modelling and applied bioinformatics.
  • Is communicative and is willing to present research results on (inter)national conferences, on social media and through teaching activities.
  • Is willing to supervise student/thesis projects.
  • Is willing to help in teaching activities.
  • Is flexible, well-organized, not afraid to take initiative or work independently, but is also a well skilled team player.
  • Thinks in solutions, not in problems.
  • Proficiency in English is expected for all applicants.
  • Experience in conducting experimental research is a plus.
  • Experience with bioinformatics tools, programming and/or a linux environment is a plus.



The successful candidate will be hired as a PhD fellow, first at the Royal meteorological institute of Belgium (Uccle) and later at the Laboratory for Process Microbial Ecology and Bioinspirational Management in Heverlee (Leuven). We offer a one year contract which can be prolonged to 3 years if the candidate receives a positive evaluation. Your main working place is the Royal meteorological institute of Belgium (Uccle) and the Laboratory for Process Microbial Ecology and Bioinspirational Management in Heverlee (Leuven).

The RMI and KU Leuven pursues a policy of equal opportunity and diversity.

Start date: November 1st 2021.



For more information, contact:

  • Dr. Rafiq Hamdi, Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium,
  • Prof. Sam Crauwels, Laboratory for Process Microbial Ecology and Bioinspirational Management, Departement M2S,



If available, in addition to your cv and letter of application, you may add:

  • An overview of study results
  • A pdf version of your master thesis
  • Contact details of one or two references who may be contacted

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