Postdoc 3 IDEM Project

Postdoctoral position in Philosophy of Biology

Thomas Pradeu’s ERC Starting Grant

Postdoc theme: “The ‘holobiont’ and its construction through the integration of microbes”



The University of Bordeaux and the CNRS seek candidates for a three-year postdoctoral position in Philosophy of Biology, in the context of Thomas Pradeu’s ERC Starting Grant project (2015-2020 called “Immunity, Development and the Microbiota: Understanding the Continuous Construction of Biological Identity” (IDEM).


Postdoc theme: “The ‘holobiont’ and its construction through the integration of microbes”

Location: University of Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France.

Employer: CNRS, Bordeaux, France.

Language: English.

Duration: One year, renewable for two more years. (The funding is for three years, and the "normal" expected duration will therefore be of three years).

Start date: September 1st, 2016, or October 1st, 2016.

Requirements: PhD in Philosophy of Biology, or Philosophy of Science more generally, with a strong interest in biology (and, if possible, a degree in biology), OR a PhD in Biology, with a strong interest in conceptual investigation.

Application deadline: March 14, 2016.

Contact: Thomas Pradeu,


Résultat de recherche d'images pour "microbiome"


Description of project

Recent work on host-microbiota interactions has led to the concept of the “holobiont”, to refer to a host and the symbiotic microorganisms that it harbors (e.g., Zilber-Rosenberg and Rosenberg 2008; Gilbert, Sapp and Tauber 2012). Though research conducted in the past ten years has undeniably used novel techniques (in particular in metagenomics: Turnbaugh and Gordon 2008) and produced new, often unexpected insights (Turnbaugh et al. 2007; McFall-Ngai et al. 2013), there is a long tradition of scientific, historical and philosophical work on symbiosis (e.g., Sapp 1994; Margulis 1998; Pradeu and Carosella 2006; Dupré and O’Malley 2009; Pradeu 2012; Bouchard 2013). A historical investigation will help clarify key conceptual debates, including one that generates many disagreements in present discussions and which concerns nothing less than the definition of the notion of “symbiosis” itself: according to some (e.g., McFall-Ngai 2002; Bouchard 2013), any long-lasting interaction between two biological entities belonging to different species should be called “symbiosis”, while for others (e.g., Hooper and Gordon 2001) the word “symbiosis” should be applied more narrowly to cases in which the interaction is beneficial to one partner and neutral to the other (“commensalism”) and cases in which the interaction is beneficial to both partners (“mutualism”). An important aim of the work conducted by the postdoc will therefore be to shed light on present discussion over symbiosis, mutualism, “microbiota” and the “holobiont” thanks to a precise reconstruction of the conceptual and experimental steps that have led to the present vocabulary.

            As the IDEM project is interested in the construction of the organism through its dialogue with the microbiota, a fundamental challenge will be to offer a detailed account of the way the organism acquires its symbionts throughout its life, from the very first step of its building to its death, and how it interacts with them in health and disease. Answering this challenge will require both the mastery of a flourishing and arduous scientific literature, and a capacity to integrate them into a novel conceptual and theoretical framework, as the conclusions to be drawn from these analyses will likely depend on the exact meaning given to words such as “holobiont”, “construction”, or “organogenesis”.

Another important question is to determine to what extent the microbiota itself “develops”: if the concept of “co-development” (Gilbert and Epel 2009) is taken seriously, then it follows that both the host and the microbiota “develop”, and do so thanks to their relationship. It will thus be essential to understand in what sense the concept of “development” can be applied to the microbiota, a question that echoes the more general problem of determining whether microbes can be said to “develop” (Love and Travisano 2013).

Finally, the “holobiont” is often described as a unit of development (Hooper and Gordon 2001; Bosch and McFall-Ngai 2011) and sometimes as a unit of evolution as well (Zilber-Rosenberg and Rosenberg 2008), but, to our knowledge, no precise analysis of the kind of “unity” found in a holobiont has been provided until now. Is the holobiont really a physiological and developmental unit, and if so should it be understood as a legitimate biological individual (Pradeu 2010, 2012)? Or should it rather be conceived as a community, or an ecosystem (Costello et al. 2012)? Or perhaps a “metaorganism” / “supraorganism” (Bosch and McFall-Ngai 2011; Nicholson et al. 2012)? Alternatively, does the holobiont render the very notion of a biological individual untenable (Gilbert, Sapp and Tauber 2012)? To address these questions, it will be instrumental to offer an in-depth analysis of the kind of metabolic interactions that can characterize an individual organism, and to determine whether the interactions between the microbiota and the host are part of these metabolic interactions (in contrast to a situation in which, for instance, the microbiota would have with the host only very limited interactions in space and time).


The postdoc will thus address the following questions:

  • What is the history of the notions of symbiosis, mutualism, microbiota and holobiont?
  • How do microorganisms enter into contact with their host, and through which mechanisms do they influence its development and its physiology?
  • Does the “holobiont” constitute an individual, a community, or an ecosystem? Does the concept of a holobiont invalidate the notion of a biological individual?


Résultat de recherche d'images pour "microbiome"



Research environment

  • IDEM research is done mainly at the University of Bordeaux, France, and more precisely in the Immunology Lab (CIRID/ALYSAI), which is part of the CNRS, the College of Health Sciences, and the Pellegrin Hospital. Though IDEM's focus is first and foremost on the domain of philosophy of biology, it will benefit greatly from its direct environment, which is one of the most important communities of biologists and medical doctors in France.
  • The postdoc will have the opportunity to spend 6 months in a partner scientific lab, most certainly Gerard Eberl’s “Microenvironment and Immunity” lab ( at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. The cost of this stay will be covered by the project grant.
  • More generally, a unique feature of the IDEM environment is the opportunity to do some empirical work, via extensive interactions with experimental biologists and medical doctors, both in the Immunology Lab and at the hospital.
  • As a whole, Thomas Pradeu’s team over the next five years will be constituted of 5 postdocs and 2 PhD students. (One postdoc and one PhD student have already been recruited in September 2015; two post-docs are recruited in September/October 2016).
  • The recruited postdoc will have excellent working conditions, including a desk and all office facilities, online access to journals, the possibility to be involved in lab experiments, funds to participate in international conferences and workshops, and funds to organize local events.
  • The postdoc will have the opportunity to interact extensively with the PI and with philosopher of biology Maureen O’Malley (, who will join the team in February 2016 for at least three years.
  • Interested candidates might want to contact Lynn Chiu, the postdoc already recruited in October 2015:


Practical activities and requirements

  • The recruited postdoc will have a PhD in Philosophy of Biology, or Philosophy of Science more generally, with a strong interest in biology (and, if possible, a degree in biology), OR a PhD in Biology, with a strong interest in conceptual investigation.
  • The recruited postdoc will be expected to participate in seminars, reading groups, and other aspects of the research life.
  • The recruited postdoc will be expected to publish several papers, including papers written in collaboration with scientists (at least 2 co-authored papers with scientists and/or philosophers, and 2 single-authored papers). A major aim of IDEM is the publication of co-authored papers in high-profile scientific journals.
  • Residency in Bordeaux is mandatory.
  • Everyday presence in the lab from 9am to 5pm is mandatory.
  • Depending on the previous experience of the candidate, the salary will be between €2,100 and €2,900 per month (net salary before income taxes).
  • The postdoc will be entitled to a total of 44 days’ vacation per year.
  • IDEM will be conducted in English. Fluency in French is therefore not mandatory.


Applications (in English) should include:

  • a cover letter;
  • a CV;
  • a list of publications;
  • a sample of written work of up to 10,000 words;
  • a description of planned research activity of 1,000-1,500 words.


Applications, in one PDF document, will be sent by email to:

(before March 14, 2016). Hard copy applications are not accepted.


Additionally, two confidential letters of reference should be sent to the same address from the referees directly.


The CNRS is an equal opportunity employer and encourages women to apply for positions.