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Biological design: synthetic biology and biomimetic engineering of plant forms and function

   Department of Bioengineering

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  Dr N Nakayama  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The Biological Form and Function Lab is an interdisciplinary research group in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London. We study the design principles of biological materials and structures and apply the knowledge to bio-based and bio-inspired solutions for a sustainable future. From cells to organs, living structures exhibit thematic designs that confer specific physical functions, such as slender bodies and bilayer actuators. 

In our Lab, we identify the key design determinant of such functional biological structures, employing numerical analyses, fabrication (e.g., 3D printing), and bio-fabrication (i.e., morphological and anatomical modification by synthetic biology). We primarily work with plant systems, as they have ingenious, environmentally sensitive structural solutions to improve their survival and fitness. 

For example, the dandelion seeds fly with a parachute made of hairs, a specific range of porosity of which enables the formation of a newly discovered type of vortex (separated vortex ring) which helps the seed stay airborne (Cummins et al., 2018). Their haired parachute closes when wet, probably to tune the timing of dispersal. A ring-shaped bilayer structure actuates this morphing, two sides of which swell differentially in high moisture conditions (Seale et al., 2021). 

We are excited to offer two fully-funded PhD studentship opportunities which can start as soon as April 2022:

· One studentship will address the architectural designs of plant shoots and their adaptation to internal and external mechanical stimulations. How plants remodel their morphology, anatomy, and material properties in response to mechanical demands will be investigated with multi-scale mechanical characterization and structural-developmental computational modelling.

· The other studentship will be on one of the following topics:

a. Synthetic biology of regenerative plant cell cultures (to generate slender body cells such as hairs and vascular cells) for cellular agriculture

b. Exploration of forms and function of haired plant surface 

c. Dandelion-inspired functional (perhaps animated) materials development 

You will be a self-motivated learner keen to take on interdisciplinary research. You will have an Honours Degree at 2.1 (or equivalent) or higher in bioengineering, life sciences, biophysics, or a closely related discipline. The successful applicant will perform or be exposed to empirical and theoretical experimentations. Interests in applying biomechanics, material science, synthetic biology, or other bioengineering approaches to plant science are welcome. We believe diversity drives creativity and more exciting research and innovation, and we seek similarly minded candidates.

"To apply for the position(s), contact Dr Naomi Nakayama [Email Address Removed] in the first instance with a CV with a personal statement explaining why you are interested in joining the Lab. Please indicate in which line of projects you are interested. Suitable candidates will then be asked to complete an electronic application form at Imperial College London to address their qualifications by College Registry.

 Closing date: until post filled (contact by 10 January 2022 for full consideration)"

For more information on our Lab, go to:

Some examples of our publications are:

Cummins et al., (2018):

Andreou et al., (2020):

Seale et al., (2021):

To find out more about research at Imperial College London in this area, go to:

For information on how to apply, go to:

Funding Notes

We are excited to offer two fully-funded PhD studentship opportunities which can start as soon as April 2022:
1 Position can be an overseas funded position.


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