Open PhD position on the optimization of mariculture cage systems, UGENT | EMBRC

Open PhD position on the optimization of mariculture cage systems, UGENT


Open PhD position on the optimization of mariculture cage systems, UGENT

PhD opportunity at Ghent University on the optimization of mariculture cage systems used in the fish industry.

Ghent University, Departments of Biology and Engineering, are looking for a highly motivated candidate for carrying out PhD study on the optimization of aquaculture cage systems used in the fish industry. This PhD research will be supported by the Stress Physiology Research Group, Department of Biology, Faculty of Sciences of Ghent University, and by the Coastal Engineering Research Group, Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Architecture of Ghent University. The PhD candidate will be supervised by Prof. Dr.. Johan Aerts, Dr. Vicky Stratigaki and Prof. Dr. Peter Troch, and the research will be carried out in a dynamic and stimulating work environment.

University & departments

Ghent University
Faculty of Sciences, Department of Biology

-Stress Physiology Research Group (Prof. Dr. Johan Aerts)
Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, Department of Civil engineering

-Coastal Engineering Research Group (Prof. Dr. Peter Troch, Dr. Vicky Stratigaki)

Responsible person to contact by the candidate for this PhD topic:

Prof. Dr. Johan Aerts


Subject: Neuro-endocrinology meets engineering: Optimization of fish cage systems with a focus on hydrodynamics using the fish’s HPI-axis as read-out in Mariculture



Sustainable mariculture is economically and environmentally promising. In order to obtain greater biological understanding of the farmed species, of the hydrodynamics of mariculture cage systems used in the fish industry and of commonly identified environmental impacts (such as waste), optimization of these cage systems is necessary.

Vertebrates are faced continuously with a variety of potential stressful stimuli and react by a highly conserved endocrine stress response. An immediate catecholamine mediated response increases plasma glucose levels in order to prepare the organism for the ‘fight or flight’ reaction. In addition, in a matter of minutes after this (nor)adrenaline release, glucocorticoids, in particular cortisol or corticosterone depending on the species, are released through activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-interrenal axis in fish or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in other vertebrates. Where short elevations of plasma cortisol are normally adaptive, help restoration and are involved a plethora of physiological processes; long-term elevations are detrimental and compromise growth, immunity and reproduction.


The PhD student will focus on how hydrodynamics of the cage system influence the acute and chronic stress level in fish, using carp (Cyprinus carpio) as a model, in particular in the part focusing on how a long-term elevation of plasma cortisol is reflected in scales, as biomarker for chronic stress. By varying/optimizing the hydrodynamics of the cage system, the PhD student will quantify these effects on the HPI-axis by analyzing acute and chronic stress parameters including: (i) quantification of glucocorticoid profiles in plasma, ontogenetic scales and tank water using ultra high performance liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (UPLC- MS/MS); (ii) quantification of stress related parameters in plasma such as osmolality, glucose, etc.; and gene expression of HPI-key genes involved in de novo cortisol synthesis as well as in its (pre- )receptor regulation.

Based on these analyses the PhD student will gain insights on how hydrodynamics act as a potential stressor for fish in mariculture.

The main goal of the PhD candidate is to conduct state-of-the-art research and collaborate with international partners from the academia and the industry within the activities of the involved research groups from Ghent University.
The PhD candidate will communicate results at national and international conferences and symposia, and will publish results in scientific journals. The PhD candidate will also contribute to supporting general teaching and research activities.


–  Candidates with background in the areas of biology, physiology, bio-engineering, hydrodynamics are suitable;

–  It is an asset if the candidates have a mix of skills, including theoretical or numerical models, as well as the performance and participation in experimental modelling in a wave flume/basin;

–  Good communication and writing skills in English is an asset.

–  Candidates that are flexible, responsible and team workers are encouraged to apply;

–  It is certainly a plus point if the PhD candidate has prior experience with data analysis,


Wetenschapspark 1, 8400 Ostend

How to apply:

To apply, please send your full CV with a cover letter (motivation), a copy of your degree(s), transcript of grades and a scanned copy of your National Identity Document or Passport to Prof. Dr. Johan Aerts (, BY 15 April 2019. For any additional queries/questions do not hesitate to use this e-mail address.

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