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Physics behind the evolution of cell remodelling


Department of Physics and Astronomy

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Dr Andela Saric Applications accepted all year round Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Complex eukaryotic cells first appeared on earth over a billion years ago. Such cells are built out of physical compartments separated from each other by membrane boundaries. To sustain life, these compartments constantly need to exchange materials. This cellular trafficking requires remodelling and cutting of the membrane boundaries and the production of mechanical forces, which are inherently physical processes.

It is now thought that complex cells evolved though a symbiotic partnership between evolutionary simpler cells that – bacterial and archaeal cells – which went on to become different sub-cellular compartments. Recently it has become clear that many of the protein machines that eukaryotic cells use to transport the material between different compartments have their origins in archaeal cells.

The goal of the PhD project is to study the physical mechanisms of membrane remodelling at their evolutionary origins – in archaeal cells. We will do so by developing a minimal coarse-grained simulation model of an archaeal cell and its membrane-remodelling machinery using a Brownian dynamics/Monte Carlo scheme. We will particularly focus on the geometry of the membrane-remodelling nanomachinery and the unique mechanical properties of archaeal membranes. The project will be done in collaboration with the Baum lab who have developed cutting-edge microscopy techniques to study remodelling of live archeal cells.

Together we aim to uncover how cell trafficking evolved to sustain the complexity of the life we know.

This PhD is from a VW Life? award (https://www.volkswagenstiftung.de/en/funding/our-funding-portfolio-at-a-glance/life-–-a-fresh-scientific-approach-to-the-basic-principles-of-life).

ABOUT US: The Saric lab (https://www.andelasaric.com) is an interdisciplinary group that develops minimal computer models of collective phenomena in biologically-inspired systems. Our models are grounded in statistical mechanics and soft matter physics. We are based at the UCL Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Institute for the Physics of Living Systems (IPLS), in central London. IPLS is a lively cross-faculty institute with a mission to promote interdisciplinary research for a fundamental understanding of the complex behaviours of living systems.

ABOUT YOU: The successful applicant should have (or expect to achieve) at least the equivalent of a UK upper second class MSci or Master’s degree (or equivalent) in Physics, Biophysics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Engineering, or a relevant physical science subject. High level of self-motivation and enthusiasm is essential, and some experience in programming desired. No prior knowledge of biology is necessary.

HOW TO APPLY: The position is fully funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and will be for four years. Please send electronic applications to [Email Address Removed] in the following format:
• A CV, including full details of all University course grades to date.
• Contact details for two academic or professional referees (at least one academic).
• A personal statement (750 words maximum) outlining (i) your academic excellence, (ii) suitability for the project, (iii) what you hope to achieve from the PhD and (iv) your research experience to-date.

The evaluation of applications will begin 1st February 2020 until the position is filled. Only shortlisted candidates will be notified via email.
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