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  Engineered Recombinant Strategies to Organo-Hydrogel Design with Applications from Plant-Based Foods to Tissue Engineering

   School of Engineering and Materials Science

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  Dr J Gautrot, Dr Stefan Baier  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

To apply for this project please visit the LIDo website:

A studentship in the design of a new generation of organo-hydrogels, based on microdroplets stabilised by protein nanosheets is available in the group of Prof J. Gautrot. The research will focus on protein engineering to allow the rational design of protein nanosheets, via biofunctionalisation as well as recombinant protein expression. The resulting materials will be applied to the formation of a novel generation of hydrogels and the study of their structural and rheological properties. Potential applications of these materials will be explored, in collaboration with our industrial partner, Motif FoodWorks (pioneering innovative science for plant-based foods;, including the formulation of plant-based foods and for tissue engineering. The student selected for this project will have the opportunity to carry out a research exchange at Motif FoodWorks research centre, in Boston, USA.

This project aims to address an important issue in the field of hydrogel design: the difficult to nano- to micro-structure hydrogels using scalable strategies. Microdroplets and corresponding interfaces offer unique opportunities for such design, however the principles that allow protein nanosheet engineering (stabilising microdroplets) for such structuring, remain mainly unknown. Protein biofunctionalisation and recombinant protein expression will play an important role for such engineering and will allow the emergence of unique biotechnologies based on organo-hydrogels.

This project will develop the engineering of protein nanosheets and their application for the design of a new generation of hydrogels based on microdroplet chemistry, developed in the Gautrot lab. The architecture of the resulting materials will be characterised using SEM and confocal microscopy and their mechanical properties will be studied using rheology and atomic force microscopy indentation. The application of the resulting materials for plant-based foods formulation will be investigated with Motif FoodWorks, whereas applications in the field of tissue engineering (in particular to promote vascularisation of soft tissues) will be studied, in collaboration with biologists within the Gautrot lab. The student developing this project will work in a multidisciplinary team within the Gautrot lab, including scientists focusing on the development of biomaterials and biomimetic hydrogels as instructive microenvironments for stem cell technologies (

Our research group has a strong track-record in the field of materials science: their design and synthesis, application as smart materials and biomaterials, microfabrication and study of cell interactions and for tissue engineering (see selected publications below). The successful candidate will join our multidisciplinary team and build a strong expertise in the fields of materials chemistry, biofunctionalisation, recombinant protein technologies, soft matter characterisation, rheology and cell biology. 

To apply for this project please visit the LIDo website:

Biological Sciences (4) Engineering (12) Food Sciences (15) Materials Science (24) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

Fully funded place including home (UK) tuition fees and a tax-free stipend in the region of £17,609.
LIDo has a maximum of 11 fully funded opportunities for students eligible for overseas fees.


1. You, Y.; Kobayashi, K.; Colak, B.; Luo, P.; Cozens, E.; Fields, L.; Suzuki, K. and Gautrot, J.E. “Engineered Cell-Degradable Poly(2-alkyl-2-oxazoline) Hydrogel for Epicardial Placement of Mesenchymal Stem Cells for Myocardial Repair” Biomaterials 2020, 2021, 269, 120356.
2. Colak, B.; Wu, L.; Cozens, E. and Gautrot, J.E. “Modulation of Thiol-Ene Coupling by the Molecular Environment of Polymer Backbones for Hydrogel Formation and Cell Encapsulation” ACS Appl. Bio Mater. 2020, 3, 6497–6509.
3. Wu, L.; Di Cio, S.; Azevedo, H. and Gautrot, J.E. "Photo-Configurable, Cell-Remodelable Disulfide Crosslinked Hyaluronic Acid Hydrogels" Biomacromolecules 2020, 21, 4663-4672.
4. Di Cio, S.; Iskratsch, T.; Connelly, J.T. and Gautrot, J.E. “Contractile myosin rings and cofilin-mediated actin disassembly orchestrate ECM nanotopography sensing” Biomaterials 2020, 232, 119683.
5. Kong, D.X.; Peng, L.H.; Di Cio, S.; Novak, P. and Gautrot, J.E. “Stem cell expansion and fate decision on liquid substrates are regulated by self-assembled nanosheets” ACS Nano 2018, 12 (9), 9206-9213.
6. Colak, B.; Di Cio, S.; Gautrot, J.E. “Biofunctionalized patterned polymer brushes via thiol–ene coupling for the control of cell adhesion and the formation of cell arrays” Biomacromolecules 2018, 19 (2), 606-615.
7. Kong, D.; Megone, W.; Nguyen, K.D.Q.; Di Cio, S.; Ramsted, M. and Gautrot, J.E. “Protein nanosheet mechanics controls cell adhesion and expansion on low-viscosity liquids”. Nano Letters 2018, 18 (3), 1946-1951.
8. Gautrot, J.E.; Malmstrom, J.; Sundh, M.; Margadant, C.; Sonnenberg, A.; Sutherland, D.S. “The nanoscale geometrical maturation of focal adhesions controls stem cell differentiation and mechanotransduction”. Nano Lett. 2014, 14, 3945-3952.
9. Trappmann, B.; Gautrot, J.E.; Connelly, J; Strange, D.G.T.; Li, Y.; Oyen, M.; Cohen Stuart, M.A.; Boehm, H.; Li, B.; Vogel, V.; Spatz, J.P.; Watt, F.M.; Huck, W.T.S. “Extracellular matrix tethering regulates stem cell fate”. Nat. Mater. 2012, 11, 642-649.
10. Connelly, J; Gautrot, J.E.; Trappmann, B.; Tan, D.W.M.; Donati, G.; Huck, W.T.S.; Watt, F.M. “Actin and SRF transduce physical cues from the microenvironment to regulate epidermal stem cell fate decisions”. Nat. Cell Biol. 2010, 12, 711-U177.