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PhD position - Building a Synthetic Cell

Project number

Project description
One of the grand challenges of the 21st century is the construction of a synthetic cell. Although the
individual building blocks (lipids, nucleic acids, proteins, ribosome) have been studied in considerable
detail, it is unknown how we would arrange the isolated building blocks in such a way that a
functioning, living cell arises. To be more precise, it is considered impossible to re-assemble a living
system from its components. However, no systematic attempts have been made, and it is the aim of
this project do exactly that. We will isolate key building blocks such as lipids, ribosomes, genomic DNA
and cell lysate from bacterial suspensions, and use microfluidic techniques to organize these building
blocks within femtoliter volumes. One of our key objectives is the discovery the underlying physical
principles that govern the remarkable level of organization observed in even the most primitive cells.
To achieve this, we need to establish gene expression in vitro from nucleoid DNA and maintain this
cell free protein expression within liposomes of sizes that are comparable to prokaryotic cell sizes.

We are looking for candidates with a background in biophysical chemistry. Experience with cell-free
protein expression, lipid synthesis of lipid bilayers, or microfluidics is highly desired.

Work environment
Research in our group is multidisciplinary and incorporates microfluidics, cell-free gene expression
systems, cell biology and synthetic chemistry. We use microdroplets in microfluidics as a tool for
studying complex reactions (Angew Chem Int Ed 2008, 2009) and to create cell-like environments in
which transcription rates are greatly enhanced (PNAS USA 2013, Nature Nanotech 2014), and where
the influence of crowding on noise in gene expression can be studied (Nature Nanotech 2016). Our
group is developing new methods for making monodisperse liposome compartments, and researches
coacervates as alternative membrane-free protocell environments. In addition to recreating the
intracellular environment, the group has a strong interest in understanding the dynamics and
robustness of out-of-equilibrium systems. We published the first rationally designed oscillating
enzymatic reaction networks (Nature Chem. 2015), where small molecules can be used to alter the
individual rates in the network (JACS 2015, 2017). This work is now expanding to identify how minimal
complex systems can arise from mixtures of coupled reactions, and, ultimately, how life arose out of
chemical reaction networks of increasing complexity.

Position available from 1 March 2018

Funding is available
More information
For more information contact Prof. Wilhelm Huck,

How to apply
You should upload your application (attn. of Ms Wendelien van der Pluijm) exclusively using the
button 'Apply' on this page. Your application should include (and be limited to) the following
attachment(s): Motivation letter (indicating the project number) and CV including the names and
contact details of at least two academic references.
Application deadline is January 14, 2018