Scholarship in Biology: evolution of heterochiasmy and sex chromosomes

Posted 10 months ago

1 – Working at the VUB

For more than 50 years, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel has stood for freedom, equality and solidarity, and this is very much alive on our campuses among students and staff alike.


At the VUB, you will find a diverse collection of personalities: innovators pur sang, but above all people who are 100% their authentic selves. With some 4,000 employees, we are the largest Dutch-speaking employer, in the private sector, in Brussels; an international city with which we are only too happy to connect and where (around) our 4 campuses are located.


Add to this our principle of free research – in which self-reflection, a critical attitude and an open, creative mind around scientific and social issues are central – and you have a university that is fundamentally groundbreaking and pioneering in education and research. In short: the VUB all over again.


Moreover, the VUB is a member of EUTOPIA, an alliance of like-minded European universities, all ready to reinvent themselves.

2 – Position description

The Faculty of Sciences and Bioengineering Sciences, Department Department of Biology, is looking for a PhD-student with a doctoral grant.


More concretely your work package, for the preparation of a doctorate, contains:

4-year ERC-grant funded PhD scholarship on the evolution of heterochiasmy and sex chromosomes in frogs and beyond is available in the Ma lab ( at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium, situated in the heart of Brussels, Belgium.


The Ma lab is interested in how sex chromosomes evolve, and why the evolutionary trajectories of sex chromosomes differ dramatically across eukaryotes. For example, sex determination is very labile in reptiles, amphibians and fishes but highly stable in mammals and most birds. We study the drivers of sex chromosome recombination suppression, the genomic signature, and the evolution and genomic basis of sex determination as well as endosymbiont manipulation of host reproduction. We integrate comparative and functional genomics, transcriptomics, molecular genetics, artificial selection, and fieldwork sampling to reveal the genomic signature and genetic architecture of sex.


Topic: Evolution of heterochiasmy and sex chromosomes in frogs and beyond 


Males and females can have very different recombination patterns and rates during meiosis. Such heterochiasmy is extreme in many frog lineages, with one sex primarily recombining close to telomeres and the other showing even recombination across the chromosomes. However, these patterns do not always associate with the heterogametic sex (the XY or ZW individuals). Sexual dimorphism in recombination may be a by-product of mechanistic differences between male and female meiosis, or it may be adaptive and selected to promote tight linkage of sex-beneficial alleles on the Y or W chromosome. However, neither of these hypotheses can adequately explain sex differences in recombination in all animals. In various lineages, sex differences in recombination can vary in degree and direction even between closely related species.


This project aims to reveal the evolution and genetic mechanism of extreme heterochiasmy, and understand the interplay between the extreme heterochiasmy, sex chromosome recombination suppression and evolutionary dynamics of sex chromosomes in various frog lineages but can also extend beyond frogs into other animal/plant lineages.


For this function, our Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering Campus (Elsene) will serve as your home base.

3 – Profile

What do we expect from you?


  • Master degree


  • Applicants from a variety of backgrounds are welcome to apply, but we are particularly interested in those with a strong interest in evolution, genetics, cytogenetic and/or theoretical biology, and molecular biology.


  • You have not performed any works in the execution of a mandate as an assistant, paid from operating resources, over a total (cumulated) period of more than 12 months.


The VUB wants to be a reflection of the society where everyone’s talent is valued, regardless of gender, age, religion, skin color, migration background, disability and neurodiversity.

4 – Offer

Are you going to be our new colleague?


You’ll be offered a full-time PhD-scholarship, for 12 months (extendable up to max. 48 months, on condition of the positive evaluation of the PhD activities), with planned starting date 15/11/2023.


You’ll receive a grant linked to one of the scales set by the government.


IMPORTANT: The effective result of the doctorate scholarship is subject to the condition precedent of your enrolment as a doctorate student at the university.


At the VUB, you’re guaranteed an open, involved and diverse workplace where you are offered opportunities to (further) build on your career.


As well as this, you will also enjoy various other benefits:

  • Extensive homeworking options, a telework allowance of 50 euros per month OR an internet fee of 20 euros per month;
  • An open and informal working environment where attention is paid to work-life balance, and exceptional holiday arrangements with 35 days of leave (based on a fulltime contract), closure between Christmas and New Year and 3 extra leave days;
  • Cost-free hospitalisation insurance;
  • Full reimbursement of your home-to-work commute with public transport according to VUB-policy, and/or compensation if you come by bike;
  • A wide selection of meals in our campus restaurants at attractive prices;
  • Excellent and affordable facilities for sport and exercise, a range of discounts via Benefits@Work (in  all kinds of shops, on flights, in petrol stations, amusement parks…) and Ecocheques;
  • Nursery near campus, discount on holiday camps;
  • The space to form your job content and to continuously learn through our VUB learning platforms and training courses;
  • And finally: great colleagues with a healthy drive.

5 – Interested?

Is this the job you’ve been dreaming of?

Then apply, at the latest on 10/10/2023via, and upload the following documents:

  • your CV;
  • your motivation letter;
  • your diploma (not applicable for VUB alumni).

Do you have questions about the job content? Contact Prof. W.-J. Ma at or on 02/629.34.16.

Would you like to know what it’s like to work at the VUB? Go to, and find all there is to know about our campuses, benefits, strategic goals and your future colleagues.

Would you like more information about EUTOPIA? Go to, and read more about the role of the VUB in the development of the EUTOPIA alliance.

Job Features

Job CategoryDoctorat

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