SLU news

Muhammad Shahzad Anjam receives a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions postdoctoral fellowship

Published: 28 March 2022
Portrait of Muhammad Shahzad Anjam n an Arabidopsis growth room at Umeå Plant Science Centre

The European Commission awarded Muhammad Shahzad Anjam with one of the prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) postdoctoral fellowships. This funding allows him to continue his research on how plants react to mechanical damage caused by nematodes, microscopic plant parasites. Muhammad Shahzad is working in Peter Marhavy’s group at the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology at Umeå Plant Science Centre.

The Marie Curie postdoctoral fellowship programme is very competitive. What was motivating you to apply there?

Muhammad Shahzad Anjam: The Marie Curie fellowship is very prestigious and offers very generous funding for the period of the fellowship but also much more. It comprises a career development package including training events, collaborations through secondments, opportunities for networking and outreach programs to reach out to a broader audience. Keeping all these aspects in mind, I was highly motivated to apply for the fellowship to excel in my career.

How does it feel to be among the 14 percent that received a grant?

Muhammad Shahzad Anjam: Surely, these are very exciting moments. Not only it is now a landmark in my CV but also gives me confidence about the quality of my proposed research project and the way we designed it. I also feel very grateful to Peter Marhavy who provided me with constant support and encouragement during the whole course of the application process.

What do you plan to do in your project?

Muhammad Shahzad Anjam: The project is about plant-parasitic cyst nematodes which are major threat to the agricultural production. The nematodes attack on the roots of the host plant. They destroy several cell layers when entering the root before they select one cell close to the nutrient rich tissues where they build up a specialized feeding structure – the syncytium – and start feeding. My project focusses on how root’s various cell files respond to the damage that is caused by the nematode when invading the root. We want to resolve cellular defence responses by mimicking nematode injury using a very fine laser beam to damage one single root cell in a controlled manner and analyse tissue-specific responses using multidisciplinary state-of-the-art techniques. 

Will you perform all your work at UPSC or are you also planning short-term secondments somewhere else?

Muhammad Shahzad Anjam: Most of the experiments and bioinformatic analyses, we will perform using facilities available at UPSC. However, I will travel to the Department of Ecophysiology at the Institute of Cellular and Molecular Botany (IZMB), University of Bonn in Germany. The group is specialized in using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to analyse the biochemistry of plant-based biopolymers that modify the cell wall interfaces according to the environmental cues. Here, I will analyse compositional changes in various plant biopolymers which create physical barriers against invading pathogens after inducing controlled injury using laser ablation.

You started at UPSC in the beginning of 2021. What was motivating you to join UPSC?

Muhammad Shahzad Anjam: I was inspired by Peter Marhavy’s research group which investigates short distance communication in response to wound stress in plants, focussing on cellular resolution and by the excellent working environment at UPSC. About 30 research groups are working at UPSC on various aspects of plant biology and all researchers share common laboratories, instruments, kitchens and offices. This creates a great interactive atmosphere to discuss and exchange ideas. By having seminars and discussions on relevant as well as interdisciplinary topics, I can learn a lot about the different fields. So overall, a very healthy and balanced working environment at UPSC encouraged me to join the institute. Further, I found that at UPSC, researchers from all around the world make it a very cosmopolitan and multicultural environment to work.

Do you have some tips for other young researchers applying for similar competitive fellowships?

Muhammad Shahzad Anjam: Yes, sure. I think, chances of obtaining a fellowship are significantly increased if we understand the core objectives of the awarding agency and formulate the application accordingly. For MSCA fellowships, the purpose is of course on a high-quality research project, but it also asks to enhance independence and leadership skills of the researcher. Therefore, designing an innovative project package using advanced technology, ambitiousness, interdisciplinary approaches and networking through secondments will enormously help to hunt a fellowship.


Project title: The plant’s internal cellular sensing and response measures to mechanical breach

Link to the official news from Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions


The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) are supporting 1156 post-doctoral researchers chosen from a total of 8356 in the 2021 Postdoctoral Fellowship call. The goal of the fellowship which is part of Horizon Europe is to increase the competence and skills of the postdoctoral fellows to improve their career prospects in academia and beyond. Emphasis is also put on interdisciplinary, inter-sectoral and international experience as well as on enhancing networking and communication capacities with the science community and with the general public.  

Project funded by EU