Bioinspired networks and molecular micromachine resembling cellular cytoskeleton

On this interdisciplinary research project, you will work in the field of synthetic biology and help to build innovative bioinspired systems that can improve our knowledge on fundamental principles of biology and develop new biomaterials. You will assemble active synthetic systems by using biological building blocks such as biopolymer and motor proteins that show motion and dynamics similar to cellular structurers.  

Start date

1 October 2023


3.5 years

Application deadline

Funding source

University of Surrey

Funding information

UKRI stipend


Supervisors: Dr Isabella Guido, Dr Matteo Barberis and Dr Richard Sear.

Biological cells are considered the basic units of living organisms. However, this definition does not give justice to their full complexity. They perform remarkable functions, such as migration, division, intracellular transport driven by the cytoskeleton that generates forces by converting energy from ATP into mechanical work. The cytoskeleton is a complex intracellular network of biopolymers, their corresponding motor proteins and cross-linkers that self-organises to determine the mechanical and dynamical behaviour of cells. Many efforts have been made to unravel the mystery of the cytoskeleton self-organisation. However, replicating its complex behaviour remains a major challenge for scientists in the interdisciplinary field of active matter physics and life science.

In this project, our goal is the development of bioinspired minimal active systems made of microtubules and molecular motors that exhibit life-like dynamics typical of natural intracellular systems. These structures will reduce the complexity of the cytoskeleton to a tractable set of basic building blocks and the interaction between the individual components that constitute can be investigated. The system will be encapsulated in compartments that mimic the cellular membrane and can be deformed by external stimulation. We will analyse the coupling between the active forces of the bioinspired networks and the external forces acting on them. We will study how the cytoskeleton responds and tune the spatiotemporal distribution of the driving forces when interacts with the surrounding environment.

The project is based on a synergistic approach combining the use of biological building blocks with engineering techniques and physical description to provide a new understanding of both cell biology and materials science.

Training and development opportunity: Through this multidisciplinary project, you will be given an opportunity to build your skills and knowledge on cutting-edge topics in physics and biology including biopolymer dynamics, membrane biophysics, synthetic biology, fluorescence microscopy and motor protein biophysics. You will also collaborate with international researchers and present your result at national/international conferences. Finally, you will be supported by the supervision team on building your skills as an independent researcher.

The environment: The University of Surrey is at the heart of the town of Guildford. We have a highly diverse research environment with a good gender and ethical balance. The student will have access to the available facilities on campus with ample supports from professional research staff. The student will be involved in the multidisciplinary school Engineering Science for Health….

The candidate: We are looking for an enthusiastic, self-motivated student to work on this exciting project. The ideal candidate will have experience in wet-lab experiments, good communication skills and most importantly, a determined mindset to pursue the research project. Ideally the candidates have experimental experience in biological physics. Good practical laboratory skills, analytical skills, basic programming skills and/or image analysis knowledge, and teamworking skills are desirable.

Interested students can contact Isabella Guido. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

Related links

Eligibility criteria

Open to UK students only.

Applicants are expected to hold a first or upper-second class degree in a relevant discipline (or equivalent overseas qualification), or a lower second plus a good Masters degree (distinction normally required).

English language requirements

IELTS minimum 6.5 overall with 6.0 in Writing, or equivalent.

How to apply

Applications should be submitted via the Physics PhD programme page.

The application should be submitted as a single PDF file containing CV, personal statement (one page maximum) and contacts for two references. Please clearly state the studentship title and supervisor on your application.

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Application deadline

Contact details

Isabella Guido


Soft Matter Physics Group

The project will be supervised by Dr Isabella Guido, Dr Matteo Barberis, and Dr Richard Sear at the University of Surrey. Isabella Guido is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Mathematics and Physics with the research area of living active matter and synthetic biology. Matteo Barberis is a Reader in Systems Biology at the School of Biosciences and employs computational and experimental strategies to address design principles of dynamic (minimal) networks underlying cellular organisation. Richard Sear is an Associate Professor and computational/theoretical physicist in the School of Mathematics and Physics. He works on a range of topics in soft matter, biological physics and fluid mechanics, including dynamics in cells and the airborne transmission of diseases such as COVID-19.


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