Research challenge:
Pectin, a very common by-product of agro-industrial processes, is one of the polymers constituting the cell wall of higher plants. It is mostly constituted by galacturonic acid units linked by a-1,4-glycosidic bonds (polygalacturonan) that can be interspersed with rhamnose units (rhamnogalacturonan). Galacturonic acid hydroxyl groups can be partially methylated or acetylated. Other neutral sugars that can also be present in pectins are represented by galactose and arabinose. Different vegetal species have different pectin structures, generated by the combination of the different sugars, making pectin a very diverse and very heterogenous class of biopolymers.
Pectin can be exploited for the production of pectin oligosaccharides (POS). POS are usually generated by directed and tailored enzymatic hydrolyses, using different enzymes to degrade the different pectin regions. POS have been proven to have interesting biological properties, which mostly reside in their ability to positively interact with the gut microflora, and to give a specific stimulation of probiotic gut bacteria.
Unfortunately, the properties of POS very much depend on the specific composition, which, given the high diversity of pectin and the diverse enzymes used for POS production, can enormously vary among different starting materials and preparations. Given this diversity, the assessment of the biological properties is to be firmly related to the actual composition of the POS mixtures, in order to make clear links between the structure and the observed activity, and to define the most active POS. This in turn can allow to define which pectin is to be used as starting materials for POS. Moreover, the isolation of the targeted

The project will have a twofold target. The first aim is to assess the potential prebiotic effect of diverse POS mixtures by microbiological tools and detailed analysis, allowing to define the most active POS structures. This task will partially rely on already existing in-house expertise, which will be complemented by specific expertise of the candidate in this field and a possible secondment in a specialized group. The second aim is to enrich the POS-preparations with the identified active compounds by fractionation using a new generation of functionalized membranes, purposely developed in the framework of this project, able to separate the different compounds in POS preparations according to charge, length and other physico-chemical properties. This main aim is to prepare prebiotic mixtures having high specific activity.

With this call, we invite researchers to submit their resumé (including track-record) and a one-page project description, that will be the basis for selecting candidates with whom we will collaborate for developing competitive MSCA-IF proposals.


Deadline application to VITO: Interested candidates should submit their resume (incl. track record) and a one-page note describing the project for which a Marie Curie grant will be applied, before Friday 17 April 2020 - 17h Brussels time.


Deadline MSCA-IF 2020: Wednesday 9 September 2020 17h Brussels time.


We invite applicants to propose a more detailed and focused researchapproach within the scope of this MSCA-IF Fellowship as a part of theirapplication. We are primarily looking for experienced researchers who wish touse this period as an opportunity to further develop their research, and todevelop longer-term research collaborations with VITO and other institutionsconducting research in the field.

The candidates as in principle must be eligible for a Marie CurieIndividual Fellowship – please refer to the conditions set-out in the H2020 MSCA Work Programme.


The following assetswill be advantageous:

  • PhD in Bio engineering or Biomedicalengineering/sciences or Food Chemistry

  • An excellent track record in research,necessary for being able to develop a competitive Marie Curie Fellowshipapplication;

  • Experience in the assessment ofbioactive/functional properties of oligosaccharides.

  • Preferably, specific expertise in the detailedcharacterization of oligosaccharides and/or the prebiotic properties.

  • Already published relevant research work inprestigious scientific journals;

  • An open and cooperation-oriented nature, butwith strong abilities for independent research work;

  • highly proficient in spoken and writtenEnglish.



Initially, we offer assistance in developing competitive Marie Curie Individual Fellowship proposals.

Then, to successful applicants to the Marie Curie program, we offer;
- An exciting opportunity at VITO, the independent Flemish research organisation in the area of cleantech and sustainable development. Our goal? To accelerate the transition to a sustainable world;
- Participation in a dynamic professional research & innovation community;
- Flexible working conditions;
- An inclusive and friendly work environment;
- On-boarding assistance and other services.