PhD Scholarship Opportunity

Jan 25, 2021


Research about telomere length in dairy cattle

Application for a PhD-scholarship (FWO-SB fellowships/phd-fellowship-strategic-basic-research/ and BOF-Ugent, at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the Ghent University (Belgium).

This faculty has been ranked number 1 on the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities (Veterinary Sciences) from 2017 up till now.

Nowadays, dairy cows are farmed in such a way that they produce large quantities of milk. Backside of the coin however is that this shortens dairy cow life span. Telomeres are regions of repetitive nucleotide sequences associated with specialized proteins at the ends of linear chromosomes. In multiple species, telomere shortening has been associated with aging, mortality and aging related diseases. In addition, telomere length has shown potential as a marker for longevity in several species. The aim of this PhD project is to examine whether determination of telomere length in blood samples can be used as a tool to research longevity in dairy cows. In the first part of the research, the method to accurately measure telomere length will be fine-tuned and validated. Secondly, both pre- as well as postnatal factors that might affect the telomere length in dairy cattle will be explored. Similar to what has been done in human medicine, we will examine whether maternal factors (such as parity and milk yield during gestation) or environmental features (such as season of birth), affect the telomere length of the neonatal calf. Furthermore, the extent to which stress factors, such as (accelerated) youth growth and the (oxidative) stress associated with parturition affect telomere length in both young and adult cows, will be examined. Finally, we will research whether telomere length can be used to predict life span and life time milk yield in dairy cattle. By validating a tool to accurately predict life span and life time milk yield, the ultimate goal of this research will be to devise strategies to prolong the life span of our future dairy cows which would be of great benefit for the dairy industry.

At present, part of samples have already been collected which avoids any delays in generating data. It also allows for the follow up of the animals at different pre- and post-natal periods, within the time limits of a PhD scholarship. In addition to telomere length, multiple other parameters like metabolic markers and markers of oxidative stress will be analyzed in the blood samples using a combination of assays. Finally, statistical modelling will be used to identify factors associated with telomere length and dynamics in dairy cattle. The student will gain knowledge about the dairy industry, the work in the lab with regard to the determination of telomere length and metabolic and oxidative markers, and will be fully supported to publish high quality research papers.

You will work in an international highly recognized research team in which collaboration and support based on mutual respect and trust are key values. The work will result in a PhD in Veterinary Sciences.

Application deadlines for scholarships: FWO-SB: March 2, 2021 – BOF-Ugent: TBD

Start date: the faculty provides a scholarship so that the student can start August 1, 2021 Eventual start date if selected for scholarship: FWO-SB: November 1, 2021 – BOF-Ugent: TBD Eventual duration if selected for scholarship: 2 periods of 2 years each.



Applications (with a motivation letter, detailed cv and overview of undergraduate study results) should be sent to:

Prof dr Geert Opsomer, Salisburylaan 133, 9820 Merelbeke (

Deadline: February 15, 2021.