EGU logo

European Geosciences Union

Open PhD project: Decoding the molecular signals of dissolved organic matter

Open PhD project: Decoding the molecular signals of dissolved organic matter

Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena logo

Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena

The Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry is dedicated to the study of global cycles of essential elements on Earth, their interactions among the biosphere, atmosphere, geosphere and the oceans, and their interrelation with the physical climate system.

The institute was founded in 1997 by the Max Planck Society as the third Max Planck Institute in Jena. In 2003, the institute moved into its new building on the Beutenberg Campus. The Science Campus is home to several academic and for-profit research institutions and offers together with the Friedrich-Schiller University Jena excellent potential for local scientific collaborations.

Biogeochemical research is highly interdisciplinary and international. Scientists from all over the world are attracted to our institute and our research is often conducted in remote and exotic locations worldwide.


Jena, Germany


Relevant divisions
Biogeosciences (BG)
Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Petrology & Volcanology (GMPV)
Soil System Sciences (SSS)

Full time

Entry level

PhD researchers receive either a scholarship (1,200 EUR for 4 years) which is free of tax and social insurance or a support contract (about 1,600 EUR for 3 years).

Preferred education

Application deadline
27 August 2019

5 July 2019

Job description

In cooperation with the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry houses a unique and flexible research program that grants German and foreign students a broad selection of learning opportunities while still maintaining a research focus.
The IMPRS-gBGC offers a PhD program specializing in global biogeochemistry and related Earth system sciences. The overall research and teaching focuses on:

  • Improved understanding of biogeochemical processes with an emphasis on terrestrial ecosystems
  • Development of observational techniques to monitor and assess biogeochemical feedbacks in the Earth system
  • Theory and model development for improving the representation of biogeochemical processes in comprehensive Earth system models

Project description:
This project aims to give insight into the chemical diversity and metabolic activities in the Critical Zone. 1,2 The overall research aim is to identify new marker compounds and general metabolic patterns for the elucidation of biogeochemical processes in this environment. Using these markers and patterns, the research focuses on answering the questions: which biological and environmental factors influence the molecular composition of dissolved organic matter (DOM)? Which metabolites and metabolic processes can be linked to DOM signatures? In order to answer these questions, samples obtained among different vegetation- and climatic zones under different land use will be analyzed. Thereby, this project will link microbial and abiotic drivers to the changing chemical signatures from the different sampling sites and under extreme climatic situations.
Within the project, advanced analytical techniques such as ultrahigh-resolution mass spectrometry 3,4 and metabolite profiling 5,6 will be applied to characterize the samples and to specifically single out marker molecules for structural and functional analysis.
The PhD candidate will be affiliated in the working group Molecular Biogeochemistry in MPI-BGC and in the Institute for Bioorganic Analyses in the FSU Jena. The successful PhD candidate will analyse the molecular properties of soil DOM using targeted and untargeted Orbitrap-MS techniques in order to answer “who” is doing “what” in soil and groundwater systems. Supervision at the MPI-BGC is provided by apl. Prof. Dr. Gerd Gleixner, Dr. Markus Lange and Prof. Dr. Georg Pohnert from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena. Additional expertize will be provided by Simon Benk (network analysis), Carsten Simon (fragmentation trees) and Dr. Carlos Sanchez-Arcos (metabolomics).


  1. Küsel, K. et al. How Deep Can Surface Signals Be Traced in the Critical Zone? Merging Biodiversity with Biogeochemistry Research in a Central German Muschelkalk Landscape. Front. Earth Sci. 4, 32 (2016).
  2. Lange, M. et al. Plant diversity increases soil microbial activity and soil carbon storage. Nat. Commun. 6, 6707 (2015).
  3. Benk, S. A., Li, Y., Roth, V.-N. & Gleixner, G. Lignin Dimers as Potential Markers for 14 C-young Terrestrial Dissolved Organic Matter in the Critical Zone. Front. Earth Sci. 6, 1–9 (2018).
  4. Simon, C., Roth, V.-N., Dittmar, T. & Gleixner, G. Molecular Signals of Heterogeneous Terrestrial Environments Identified in Dissolved Organic Matter: A Comparative Analysis of Orbitrap and Ion Cyclotron Resonance Mass Spectrometers. Front. Earth Sci. 6, 1–16 (2018).
  5. Kuhlisch, C. & Pohnert, G. Metabolomics in chemical ecology. Nat. Prod. Rep. 32, 937–955 (2015).
  6. Sanchez-Arcos, C., Kai, M., Svatoš, A., Gershenzon, J. & Kunert, G. Untargeted Metabolomics Approach Reveals Differences in Host Plant Chemistry Before and After Infestation With Different Pea Aphid Host Races. Front. Plant Sci. 10, 1–13 (2019).

How to apply

Online applications for the program are open to well-motivated and highly-qualified candidates from all countries. A prerequisite is a diploma or master of science degree in geophysical sciences, environmental sciences, biological sciences, physics, chemistry, computer sciences or related fields, including a corresponding thesis. Proficiency in English is required since English is the official language of the program.

Applications to the IMPRS-gBGC are open to well-motivated and highly-qualified students from all countries. For this particular PhD project we seek a candidate with

  • a Master’s degree in Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry or other chemistry related sciences
  • experience in analytical chemistry, LC-MS, handling of big data sets
  • of advantage is experience in high resolution MS (FT-ICR-MS or Orbitrap-MS)
  • very good oral and written communication skills in English

The Max Planck Society seeks to increase the number of women in those areas where they are underrepresented and therefore explicitly encourages women to apply. The Max Planck Society is committed to increasing the number of individuals with disabilities in its workforce and therefore encourages applications from such qualified individuals.