PhD position: Regulation of RNA virus replication and evolution

Code: 29/2018



The “Genome Architecture and Evolution of RNA Viruses” (GARV) research group of Dr. Redmond Smyth at the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based infection research (HIRI) in Würzburg (Germany) is offering a PhD position: Regulation of RNA virus replication and evolution.


Project description:

The Smyth laboratory seeks a PhD candidate interested in better understanding the role of RNA genome architecture in viral replication and evolution. Our mission is to dissect the molecular role of RNA in viral replication at the whole pathogen scale and to exploit this knowledge in drug discovery and vaccine design.

RNA virus genomes are not just passive carriers of genetic information, but active participants in the viral infection process. They fold into secondary, tertiary and quaternary RNA structures that intervene at nearly every step of the viral-life cycle, and thus provide a rich variety of interfaces for pharmaceutical attack. Using state-of-the-art unbiased mutational and functional screens (see, we will identify RNA structures regulating each step of the viral replication cycle. We will then characterize cellular and viral factors (protein, small molecule and nucleic acid) binding to these precisely defined regions to identify new targets of therapeutic value. 

We are also interested in how RNA structure influences viral evolution. RNA viruses exhibit rapid evolution due to their short replication cycles, high mutations rates and capacity for recombination. This leads to their efficient escape from immune pressure and antiviral therapy, and further complicates vaccine design. We will therefore investigate how RNA viruses have optimized their genome architecture to facilitate viral evolution using a variety of high-throughput RNA structural probing methodologies. The goal is to use this knowledge to improve disease prevention and control strategies, in particular, through the design of novel vaccine platforms.

Our model organisms are HIV-1 and influenza A, so the candidate should be comfortable working with human pathogens.

The institute:

The Helmholtz-Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI) has been established in May 2017 as joint venture between the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig and the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg (JMU). Located on the Würzburg medical campus, it will be the first research institution worldwide to exclusively address the role of ribonucleic acids (RNAs) in infection processes. Based on these findings, the HIRI will pioneer an integrative approach to exploit the vast potential of RNAs as a diagnostic molecule, target and drug for new strategies to combat infectious diseases. (


  • Master’s Degree/Diploma in microbiology, cell biology, infection biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, or a related field of the life sciences
  • Excellent English communication and presentation skills (written and spoken)
  • Ability to work independently, and as part of an international team
  • A strong desire to do research with high self-motivation and enthusiasm


HIRI Würzburg

The Handicapped

Qualified applicants with a disability will be given preference.

Starting date


Contract time limit

Initial term 1 year with the possibility of additional 2 years extension

Probation period

6 months


alike TVöD E13 (50%) with the possibility of an additional payment of 10%

Published on


Applications accepted until  03.06.2018

Applicants are required to complete the online application form here: (Please refer to the job number 29/2018)

For more details regarding the position, please contact Dr. Redmond Smyth via e-mail

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HZI International Graduate School

The HZI International Graduate School for Infection Research (GS-FIRE) provides an innovative structured PhD programme within the field of Infection Research.

PhD programme “Epidemiology”

The PhD programme “Epidemiology” is a three-year doctoral programme in the area of epidemiological research and is coordinated by the Department of Epidemiology of the HZI.

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