Joint PhD position KU Leuven - Univ. of Edinburgh: Dynamical analysis of protein wave patterns that control cell division

Updated: 3 months ago
Deadline: 22 Jul 2022

(ref. BAP-2022-335)

Laatst aangepast : 24/05/2022

The Laboratory of Dynamics in Biological Systems (Gelens lab) at the KU Leuven aims at understanding how networks of interacting genes, RNAs, and proteins can collectively regulate biological processes in space and time. Our present focus lies on the coordination of cell division. We combine a theoretical approach; such as computational modeling, machine learning and nonlinear dynamical systems theory; with molecular and cellular experiments using Xenopus frogs, zebrafish, and cell cultures. For more information, see The Goryachev lab at the Univ. of Edinburgh studies biophysical mechanisms of intracellular morphogenesis using mathematical modeling. We want to understand how cells dynamically create, maintain, and disassemble various structures, such as filopodia, cytokinetic contractile rings or focal adhesions. We work in close collaboration with leading experimental cell biology labs worldwide. Such a multi-system, cross-disciplinary approach allows us to reveal the common principles and molecular mechanisms of cellular morphogenesis. For more information, see .

  • Each healthy dividing cell goes through two main phases in its life cycle. DNA is replicated in interphase, and then, in the mitotic phase, the cell segregates that DNA between the two daughter cells and it effectively divides. Failure to properly coordinate cell division can disrupt embryonic development, tissue homeostasis, and it can lead to devastating diseases such as cancer. Essential parts of the cell cycle control system have been investigated. Biochemical oscillations result from complex interactions between regulators, and they can drive the cell cycle forward. Moreover, bio-polymers, such as microtubules and actin, can self-organize. Among other things, this leads to a contractile actin-myosin ring that helps splitting a cell in two. However, little is known about the temporal and spatial coordination of these different important processes combined. 
  • In this project we investigate how intracellular waves of critical biochemical mitotic regulators and cortical waves of actin polymerization interact and function collectively. We characterize how such wave patterns with different spatial and temporal scales affects global cell cycle control, and how it can control cell shape. Our model predictions will be confronted with experiments in early frog embryos. 
  • The student will pursue a joint PhD degree between the Gelens lab at KU Leuven and the Goryachev lab at Univ. of Edinburgh. KU Leuven will be the main institution where the student will work 3 years, and two research visits of 6 months are foreseen at the Goryachev lab in Edinburgh. The student will interact synergistically with experimentalists, theorists, and engineers. 
  • The position is available from October 2022, and applications will be considered until the position is filled.

  • You have (or are near completion of) a MSc degree in physics, mathematics, or (bio-) engineering
  • You are ambitious, motivated, creative, organized, practically skillful and result-oriented
  • You are excited to work in the context of an international joint PhD between KU Leuven and Univ. of Edinburgh and willing to communicate regularly with both supervisors
  • You can work independently as well as in a team
  • You have good communication skills and a good knowledge of English, both spoken and written
  • You have experience with nonlinear dynamical systems and/or bifurcation theory 
  • You have a strong interest in cellular dynamics and dynamical systems biology
  • You think science is fun and want to apply concepts of physics in the field of biology

  • We offer a doctoral position in a stimulating, interdisciplinary environment and scientific development opportunities in an international and dynamic team. 
  • You will have access to state-of-the-art research facilities and will be registered in a specific program of the doctoral school. 
  • You will be supervised by well-trained scientists and receive thorough training in conducting research, presentations, and writing. 
  • You will be appointed in the context of a global PhD partnership of KU Leuven with the Univ. of Edinburgh, with KU Leuven as the main institution (3 years of the PhD will be in Leuven) and two research visits of 6 months will take place at the Goryachev lab in Edinburgh.


For more information please contact Prof. dr. Lendert Gelens, tel.: +32 16 37 42 88, mail:

To apply, please submit as soon as possible your motivation letter, CV, copies of transcripts/MSc degree, and names and contact information of at least two references.

KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at

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