PhD position: Bottom-up reconstruction of a self-dividing artificial cell using microfluidics

Updated: about 1 month ago
Deadline: 16 Aug 2022

What distinguishes a living organism from a simple mixture of chemical reactions? It is generally agreed that a living organism needs to satisfy a basic set of conditions: compartmentalize its components, encode information, catalyze reactions and be able to reproduce. To better understand what constitutes a living system (and to, possibly, even synthesize life-like behavior), many researchers are attempting to artificially reconstruct some of these conditions from the bottom-up. 

In this project we will attempt to build, from basic constituent parts, an artificial cell that is able to mimic a cell division process. To achieve this, we will deconstruct Xenopus frog eggs into their basic components (membrane and cytoplasm), which we will subsequently piece together using droplet-based microfluidic techniques, to reconstitute a cytoplasmic extract complex contained within a biomimetic membrane. Harnessing the capacity of these egg extracts to generate much of the spatial organization and cell cycle function of the early embryo, we will attempt to elucidate what are the minimal key components required for division-like processes within an artificial construct. 

You will learn how to make such extracts that allow to decouple the biochemical cellular processes from the actual cell, thus allowing to create an artificial cellular environment in a test-tube. In collaboration with the Lammertyn and Casadevall labs, you will be involved in making custom-made microfluidic devices, to develop a high-throughput setup for time-lapse fluorescence imaging of cell division processes with high spatiotemporal resolution and accurate control over the environment and underlying protein network. 

You will interact synergistically with experimentalists, theorists, and engineers. Such an interdisciplinary approach will lead to new insights into how the most fundamental processes, such as mitosis, are regulated in space and time.

The position is available now, and applications will be considered until a suitable candidate is found to fill the position.

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