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Oscillations in biological systems


   Department of Biomedical Sciences


About the Project

Living systems are complex and are based on the basic building blocks of genes, proteins, chemical reactions, and physical forces. Yet, out of this complexity, with remarkable robustness and precision, cells orchestrate the cooperative action of thousands of specific molecular reactions and interactions to carry out mechanical tasks. For example, 100 billion heart cells can synchronise their oscillation to generate a single pulse. Therefore, oscillations that form spatial and temporal patterns in biology are critical to homeostasis. In biology, these are usually investigated using a bottom-up approach i.e. understanding the different molecules and signalling pathways that give rise to cellular and tissue processes. This has led to many discoveries such as identification of drug targets. However, to understand the fundamental principles that govern cooperative processes in living systems, it is of critical importance to develop an understanding of the underlying physio-chemical processes, because living systems are also subject to laws in physical systems

We aim to investigate the idea that several physical forces in biological systems interact so that inter-cell communication can emerge. These are (a) Chemical forces which are known to give rise to spatial patterns such as Turing patterns (b) Mechanical forces especially important in contractile cells such as cells in the heart (c) Electrical forces that are particularly important in neurons. We have shown how these forces interact to produce self-oscillating gels that mimic the beating heart. 

In this project, we will use biological cells to investigate how mechanical forces couple to calcium oscillations in single cells and amongst many cells in a tissue. We will investigate how this coupling may lead to homeostasis by applying the mechanical forces to individual cells to study their responses. For example, using heart cells, we will understand how these cells can produce cohesive chemical and mechanical waves within million cells, and control their beating patterns by the external mechanical forces. This can lead to the design of devices such as mechanical pacemakers and smart biomaterials.  

Students interested in cell biology, cellular signalling, biomedical science, and biomedical engineering will be a good fit for this project.

 

This project is a unique training opportunity for a student to learn complementary techniques including biological cell culture, imaging, modelling, soft engineering and computational approaches. We are a vibrant interdisciplinary group that is interested in both biological systems and biomimicry in smart materials to find universal laws. 

School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading:

The University of Reading, located west of London, England, provides world-class research education programs. The University’s main Whiteknights Campus is set in 130 hectares of beautiful parkland, a 30-minute train ride to central London. 

Our School of Biological Sciences conducts high-impact research, tackling current global challenges faced by society and the planet. Our research ranges from understanding and improving human health and combating disease, through to understanding evolutionary processes and uncovering new ways to protect the natural world. In 2020, we moved into a stunning new ~£60 million Health & Life Sciences building. This state-of-the-art facility is purpose-built for science research and teaching. 

During your PhD at the University of Reading, you will expand your research knowledge and skills, receiving supervision in one-to-one and small group sessions. You will have access to cutting-edge technology and learn the latest research techniques. 

Eligibility:

Applications will be considered from any candidate who holds (or expects to obtain) at least a 2:1 or 1st Class Honour's Degree in a Biology and Biomedicine related subject. Molecular Biological or experience in wet lab works is a plus, but not necessary.

How to apply:

Submit an application for a PhD in Biomedical Sciences at http://www.reading.ac.uk/pgapply

 

Further information:

http://www.reading.ac.uk/biologicalsciences/SchoolofBiologicalSciences/PhD/sbs-phd.aspx

 

Enquiries:

Dr. Nandini Vasudevan or Dr. Yoshi Hayashi. Email at: or


Funding Notes

We welcome applications from self-funded students worldwide for this project.
If you are applying to an international funding scheme, we encourage you to get in contact as we may be able to support you in your application.

References

Ogawa, S., Tsukahara, S., Choleris, E. and Vasudevan, N. (2018) Estrogenic regulation of social behavior and sexually dimorphic brain formation. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. ISSN 0149-7634 doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.10.012
Geher-Herczegh, T., Wang, Z., Masuda, T., Yoshida, R., Vasudevan, N. and Hayashi, Y. (2021) Delayed mechanical response to chemical kinetics in self- oscillating hydrogels driven by the Belousov−Zhabotinsky reaction. Macromolecules, 54 (13). pp. 6430-6439. ISSN 0024-9297 doi: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.macromol.1c00402

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