Science, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Fixed Term (FTA) 2 years
The coca tree is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the American tropics and has great medicinal and cultural value in indigenous communities. The four species of coca tree (Erythroxylum cataractarum, E. coca, E. gracilipes and E. novogranatense) also have untapped potential for widespread medicinal use (especially as an anaesthetic and analgesic) and for cultivation as a ‘super food’ crop. However, the phylogenetic relationships between these four species have not yet been fully resolved, and so the identity of the closest living relative is still unknown. More importantly, we still do not know whether artificial selection is, in fact, responsible for the elevated alkaloid content in the most cultivated species of coca. The non-regulated breeding and cultivation of new coca races that are tolerant to herbicides and produce higher yields of cocaine poses a serious threat to the genetic identity of local coca varieties that are key for the subsistence of local indigenous communities. In addition, the absence of robust genomic data – whole metabolome and genome sequence data from authoritatively identified material – has prevented attempts to address these knowledge gaps, quantify the genetic erosion of these local cultivars, and combat the illegal cultivation of coca for narcotic purposes through tracing the genetic ancestry of the new breeds of coca.
Drawing on our extensive collections and our collaborative networks, this exciting and ambitious project aims to address these knowledge gaps by providing, for the first time, a temporal framework for the speciation of the coca tree. This will be achieved by using a novel genome assembly derived from cutting-edge sequencing technologies and population genetics theory applied to extensive sequencing of the world-renowned historical collections stored in Kew. The successful candidate will be an active member of a high-profile, multi-disciplinary team led by the Director of Science, Prof. Alex Antonelli and will benefit from working across science departments at Kew.
They will have access to:
- Kew’s unrivalled Herbarium and Economic Botany coca tree collections, which include 178 type specimens and 941 herbarium records.
- World-class expert knowledge from renowned scientists on genomics, bioinformatics and plant crop domestication.
- Well-equipped laboratories and computing resources at Kew and among our collaborating institutions.
Kew is the world’s leading botanic gardens, at the forefront of plant and fungal science, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major visitor attraction.
We want a world where plants and fungi are understood, valued and conserved – because our lives depend on them.
We use the power of our science and the rich diversity of our gardens and collections to provide knowledge, inspiration and understanding of why plants and fungi matter to everyone.
With a PhD in a relevant specialist subject (e.g. taxonomy, molecular systematics, bioinformatics, phylogenetics, phylogenomics; molecular biology), the ideal candidate will have a strong track record of scientific analysis and publication. They will have experience of independently managing a discrete research project or project area, and in compiling, handling and analysing large datasets. They will need excellent verbal and written communication skills, including the ability to adapt these to diverse audiences ranging from the general public to the specialist research community.
Candidates will also need the ability to explore and apply new technologies and opportunities as appropriate in discussion with colleagues. With excellent time management and prioritisation skills, they will work independently but as part of a dynamic collaborative team at Kew and external network of researchers. Previous postdoctoral research experience in population genomics and/or bioinformatics would be advantageous.
Our fantastic benefits package includes opportunities for continuous learning, a generous annual leave entitlement, flexible working to help you maintain a healthy work-life balance, an Employee Assistance Programme and other wellbeing support such as cycle to work scheme and discounted gym membership. We also offer a competitive pension, an employee discount scheme and free entry into a wide range of national museums and galleries, as well access to our own beautiful gardens at Kew and Wakehurst.
If you are interested in this position, please visit our website for more information and to apply.
We are committed to equality of opportunity and welcome applications from all sections of the community. We guarantee to interview all disabled applicants who meet the essential criteria for the post.