Vacancy Details: Postdoctoral Researcher

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John Innes Centre

JIC is an independent, international centre of excellence in plant science and microbiology. Our mission is to carry out fundamental and strategic research, to train scientists and to make our findings available to society.

The scientific research at the Centre makes use of a wide range of disciplines in the biological and chemical sciences, including cell biology, biochemistry, chemistry, genetics and molecular biology.

The John Innes Centre prides itself on being a welcoming and inclusive working environment for all. We have a diverse and multicultural scientific community and thrive on our European and international links. The John Innes Centre is proud to hold a prestigious Athena SWAN Gold award, recognising the impact of our work in promoting gender equality in science. For more information, go to We are also a proud member of the Stonewall Diversity Champion’s programme and, as a Disability Confident employer, guarantee to offer an interview to all disabled applicants who meet the essential criteria for the post.

The John Innes Centre is a registered charity (No. 223852), limited by guarantee (registered in England No. 511709) and is an Equal Opportunities Employer.

Athena Swan

disability confident employer

   Stonewall Diversity Champion

Advancing gender equality in science, engineering and technology.

Post Number1003392
Job TitlePostdoctoral Researcher
Closing Date8 Feb 2018
Starting Salary£31,250 - £38,100
Hours per week 37
Project Title Immunity By Pair Design
Expected/Ideal Start Date 01 Mar 2018
Months Duration 30
Main purpose of the job Postdoctoral Researchers work with limited supervision to carry out individual and collaborative research projects relevant to the overall needs of the research programme.

This project will (1) reveal design principles of paired immune receptor complexes and (2) elevate plant disease resistance by enabling design of immune receptors with new recognition capacities.

Plant immunity is triggered upon pathogen detection by dedicated immune receptors. Like animal Nucleotide-binding Leucine-rich Repeat (NLR) proteins, plant immune receptors have a modular structure and can work in pairs, both of which are required for defence activation upon recognition of specific pathogen proteins. How such intracellular immune receptor complexes activate defence solely upon recognition of microbial molecules is poorly understood.

Using novel methods such as domain/domain cross-linking with mass spectrometry (XL-MS) and cryo-electron microscopy, as well as X-ray crystallography, Biochemistry, genetics and cell biology, we will define at a structural level the domain/domain interactions within an immune receptor complex, and how these change upon pathogen perception. The Arabidopsis RRS1/RPS4 immune receptor acts to detect pathogen effectors that target WRKY transcription factors, converting effector interactions with the RRS1 WRKY domain into defence activation via RPS4. We will reveal the intra-molecular reconfigurations required for signalling and thus tackle a problem of broad significance, both for immune receptors, and for other intracellular receptors that are activated by ligand-dependent release from negative regulation.
Department Biological Chemistry
The Biological Chemistry Department at the John Innes Centre carries out fundamental research on molecular processes in plants and microbes. With activities ranging from determining DNA topoisomerase structure to mechanism and the generation of novel functional nanostructures from engineered viruses, we employ a multidisciplinary approach that embraces contemporary aspects of enzymology, structural and molecular biology, bionanotechnology, carbohydrate and natural product chemistry. Coupled with state-of-the-art platform technologies for structural, proteomic and chemical genomic analysis, the Department bridges the gap between molecular science and cellular and systems biology. Collectively these studies provide key information with which to manipulate and control molecules, pathways and processes of agronomic, environmental and industrial importance.
Group Details The Banfield Lab investigates the molecular and structural basis of plant-microbe interactions. Specifically, we are interested in (i) the structure and function of host translocated pathogen effector proteins, how they interact with host cell molecules to perturb activity for the benefit of the pathogen, and (ii) the structure and function of intracellular plant immune receptors (NLRs). For the latter, we are interested in understanding how they recognise and respond to pathogen effectors and/or their functions.
Advert Text Applications are invited for a Postdoctoral Researcher with skills in structural biology and protein chemistry to join the Laboratory of Professor Mark Banfield at the John Innes Centre, in collaboration with Prof. Jonathan Jones' lab at the Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL), in a team to investigate mechanisms of plant innate immunity in the ERC-funded project "ImmunityByPairDesign" (


The project addresses the design principles of paired intracellular plant immune receptor complexes. Plant immunity is triggered upon pathogen detection by dedicated immune receptors. Nucleotide-binding Leucine-rich Repeat (NLR) proteins survey the host intracellular environment and activate defence upon detection of pathogen molecules. Some plant NLRs work in pairs, with one partner acting as a “sensor” to detect pathogens, and the other as a “helper” required for initiation of immunity. Some sensor NLRs contain integrated domains that act as baits to target pathogen molecules by direct binding, or act as substrates of pathogen-derived enzymes. This project aims to unravel how the Arabidopsis RPS4/RRS1 NLR pair converts AvrRps4 or PopP2 recognition into defence activation. We are defining the intra- and inter-molecular interactions of RPS4 and RRS1 in both pre- and post-activation states, revealing the reconfigurations required for signalling. We also aim to use this information to design new specificities for plant NLRs that may have utility in crop disease control.

The role:

This position would suit researchers interested in the molecular mechanisms that underpin innate immunity signalling in plants and animals, with a strong focus on in vitro biochemistry and structural biology. The post-holder will work under the guidance of Prof. Banfield but will be expected to show initiative within the context of the project, in collaboration with RPS4/RRS1 team members in the Jones group. Our goal is to understand the properties and roles of the domains of RPS4 and RRS1, and in particular, to define the structure of these domains, and the structural basis for their interactions pre- and post activation.

The ideal candidate:

The John Innes Centre is a world-class research institute and is looking to appoint an exceptional candidate who has, or expects to soon receive, a PhD in the areas of biochemistry, molecular biology, structural biology, or a related subject. The post-holder will have opportunities to develop their technical and transferable skills during the duration of the appointment through training programmes, coaching and mentoring.

The post-holder will have a keen enthusiasm for research and have long-term career aspirations in science. As well as the ability to carry out independent work they must also be a strong team player and have excellent communication skills. The successful candidate will join a multidisciplinary group with wide interests in molecular plant pathology.

Additional information:

Salary on appointment will be within the range £31,250 to £38,100 per annum depending on qualifications and experience. This post is for a contract of 30 months, with the possibility of extension.

For further information and details of how to apply, please visit our web site or contact the Human Resources team on 01603 450462 or quoting reference 1003392.

We are an equal opportunities employer, actively supporting inclusivity and diversity. As a Disability Confident organisation, we guarantee to offer an interview to all disabled applicants who meet the essential criteria for this vacancy. The John Innes Centre is also proud to hold a Gold Award from Athena SWAN and is a member of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme.

Key relationships Internal: Line manager, group members and, as necessary, other researchers, research support staff and students across the Institute.

External: Collaborators

The post holder will work closely with other members of the Banfield Lab who work on related research questions concerning plant immunity, but with different subject material. This postdoctoral post is funded by the ERC and part of a Banfield Lab collaboration with Jonathan Jones (Grant Lead) at The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich. The post holder will be expected to work alongside the other members of the Jones group who work on the similar projects and are employed at TSL.
Main Activities & ResponsibilitiesPercentage
Identify, plan, carry out and modify experiments to meet the objectives of the project65
Prepare results, reports and manuscripts for publication in leading scientific journals and other relevant media5
Disseminate research findings though presentations to various audiences at internal, national and international meetings5
Collaborate with colleagues within the Institute in the development of original and world-class research, including contributing to research proposals and grant applications 5
Ensure research and record keeping is carried out in accordance with good practice, Scientific Integrity and in compliance with local policies and any legal requirements5
Contribute to the smooth running of the group, including the effective use of resources, supervision of visitors to the laboratory and assisting with training others, encouraging scientific excellence 5
Continually strive for excellence, seeking out and acting on feedback and relevant learning and development opportunities5
As agreed with the line manager, any other duties commensurate with the nature of the post, for example, contributing to the work of Institute committees5

Education & QualificationsRequirementImportance
PhD (full award or expected within 6 months) in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Structural Biology or related subject, or equivalentEssential
BSc or equivalent in a relevant disciplineEssential

Specialist Knowledge & SkillsRequirementImportance
Application of biochemistry and structural biology techniques to answer biological questionsEssential
Biochemical and biophysical techniques for the analysis of protein:protein interactions in vitroEssential
All stages of protein structure determination by X-ray crystallographyEssential
Experience (or at least background knowledge) with structure determination by cryo-EM and SAXSEssential
Expressing proteins in heterologous systems for in vitro analysis (E. coli, insect cells)Essential
Purifying proteins from heterologous systems (E. coli, insect cells)Essential
An appreciation of molecular plant pathology/innate immunity pathways and their role in managing diseases of plantsEssential

Relevant ExperienceRequirementImportance
Demonstrated ability to perform research and develop novel ideas in chosen research areaEssential
Proven ability to produce research outputs, including papers in peer reviewed journalsEssential
Experience of oral research presentationsEssential
Understanding of Health and Safety issues for standard Laboratory environmentsEssential
Experience of supervising, training and mentoring visitors and studentsDesirable
Preparing data / information for grant proposalsDesirable

Interpersonal & Communication SkillsRequirementImportance
Excellent communication skills, both written and oral, including the ability to present complex information with clarity Essential
Strong interpersonal skills and the ability to work cooperatively with colleagues towards shared goalsEssential
Demonstrated ability to work independently, using initiative and applying problem solving skillsEssential
Excellent time management and organisational skills, take responsibility for reaching milestonesEssential
A keen enthusiasm for research and interest in personal career developmentEssential
Ability to follow instructions/Standard Operating ProceduresEssential
Promotes and strives for continuous improvement, engaging with staff developmentEssential
Ability to maintain accurate and understandable Laboratory notesEssential

Additional RequirementsRequirementImportance
Promotes equality and values diversityEssential
Willingness to embrace the expected values and behaviours of all staff at the Institute, ensuring it is a great place to workEssential
Able to present a positive image of self and the Institute, promoting both the international reputation and public engagement aims of the Institute Essential
Ability to maintain confidentiality and security of information where appropriate Essential
Willingness to work outside standard working hours when required Essential
Ability to undertake occasional travel (national and international) related to collaborations and/or seminars Essential
Willingness to participate in community engagement (public understanding of science, schools, other outreach)Desirable

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