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PhD-student: Spatial regulation of cell division in synthetic cells
AMOLF scientists are continuously searching for the fundamental relationship between the architecture and interactions of complex matter and material systems and their purpose and function.
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Published: 8 days ago
Application deadline: Unspecified
Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
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PhD-student: Spatial regulation of cell division in synthetic cells

Spatial regulation of cell division in synthetic cells

Living cells have the remarkable ability to autonomously grow, divide and move. The Biological Soft Matter group at AMOLF uses bottom up synthetic biology to understand how the cytoskeleton and the plasma membrane of the cell work together to generate these complex biological functions. In this project, you will investigate how cells control the position of the division site such that division always produces two cells with equal volume and content. This project is part of a large collaborative research programme called Basyc ( aimed at creating a self-reproducing synthetic cell. The overarching goal is to use natural molecular building blocks and integrate them at increasing levels of complexity and autonomy to create a self-sustaining cell-like system. You will use microfluidic techniques to generate synthetic cells based on lipid vesicles with an encapsulated cytoskeletal network and explore cytoskeleton-based minimal strategies for midpoint localization with the help of advanced fluorescence microscopy.

More about the project

The BaSyC programme aims at combining biomolecular building blocks to create an autonomous self-reproducing cell. The project is a joint effort of 17 research groups from the TUD, AMOLF, Groningen University, Radboud University, Vrije Universiteit, and Wageningen University. The Koenderink group works on various aspects of the cytoskeletal machinery of the synthetic cell. This project specifically focuses on engineering spatial regulation of cell division. You will work closely together with other members of the group, who work on the mechanical properties of the membrane and stabilization by the cytoskeleton, cell division driven by actomyosin contraction, and membrane fission. You will explore different physical mechanisms to regulate midpoint localization of the actomyosin-based division machinery. Recent theoretic models predict that geometrical cues such as a rod-like cell shape can already bias the position of the division ring. To test this, we will study cytoskeletal self-organization inside lipid vesicles with a controlled shape imposed by confinement to microfluidic channels. We will then combine geometrical cues with more sophisticated positional control based on crosstalk between the actomyosin and microtubule cytoskeleton. Microtubules are known to trigger gradients in cortical tension between the cell center and cell poles by various mechanisms, including physical crosslinking and poleward transport of proteins that control actin and myosin activity by growing microtubule tips. We will explore these mechanisms in synthetic cells, in close collaboration with Prof. M. Dogterom at the TUD.

About the group

The Biological Soft Matter group is an experimental research group centered around the soft condensed matter physics of living matter. Our central aim is to understand the physical mechanisms that govern the self-organization and (active) mechanics of cells and tissues. Our strategy is to reconstitute synthetic cell and tissue models from the bottom-up. We would ultimately like to take bottom-up reconstitution to the level where we can mimic complex cellular processes such as cell motility and tissue development. Synthetic systems allow us to identify the physical principles that underlie the complex functions of living matter and facilitate close coupling between experiments and predictive modelling. We study synthetic cells and tissues using quantitative microscopy combined with mechanical tools such as optical tweezers and rheometry. We actively collaborate with theoretical groups and with cell and developmental biologists.


We are looking for an ambitious and motivated person with a training in experimental physics, chemistry, nanoscience, or molecular life sciences and a demonstrable interest in quantitative approaches to biology. Hands-on experience with biochemistry, molecular biology and/or biophysical techniques such as advanced microscopy, microfluidics, or force spectroscopy is an advantage. We look for students who are enthusiastic about the idea of working in a collaborative, ambitious and international environment and collaborating with researchers from other disciplines. You will need to meet the requirements for an MSc-degree, to ensure eligibility for a Dutch PhD examination.

Terms of employment

You will be offered an employment of four years in the service of NWO-I with excellent employment benefits. The position is intended as full-time (40 hours / week, 12 months / year). After successful completion of your PhD research a PhD degree will be granted at one of the Universities in the Netherlands.

AMOLF is a small-scale institute with different disciplines and is known for its unique collaborative culture. Your development will be stimulated in the form of training on the job together with relevant courses. We offer generous relocation expenses and support with finding housing and visa application. NWO-I also offers you facilities to combine work and private life, like partly paid parental leave. Curious about our other benefits? See the employment regulations of NWO-I. 

You will furthermore have access to all research facilities and training events in the framework of the BaSyC programme, including a training program at the different partners’ institutions for instructions in protein/gene handling, advanced optical microscopy, and computational methods, as well as training on the ethical and societal aspects of synthetic biology.

Contact info

Prof.dr. Gijsje Koenderink
Group leader Biological Soft Matter
Phone: +31 (0)20-754 7100

You can respond to this vacancy online via the button below.
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–  Resume (curriculum vitae, including contact details of your M.Sc. supervisor or another academic referee);
–  Motivation on why you want to join the group (max. 1 page).
It is important to us to know why you want to join our team. This means that we will only consider your application if it entails your motivation letter.

The selection process commences immediately, but will close when suitable candidates have been found.

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