Driving synthetic cell division (MEP)

What and Why

The actin cortex is a complex protein machinery which drives eukaryotic cytokinesis, the physical division of a mother cell into two daughter cells. Classical biology has revealed a long list of key proteins which participate in this process:  Actin filaments form a dense mesh underneath the cell membrane, on which myosin motors pull to generate tension and deform the cell. Beyond this, a variety of crosslinking and regulatory proteins are also involved. Yet, even though cytokinesis is a central function in all cellular life, we still don’t understand how all these proteins work together to physically divide a cell. 

We believe that synthetic biology and cell-free reconstitution, where cellular processes are reconstituted from the bottom up, can help us gain that mechanistic understanding. In the ‘BaSyC – Building A Synthetic Cell’ consortium, we are working on reconstituting a full living cell from non-living components, and our group contributes to this by rebuilding a minimal version of the cell division machinery of animal cells.

The Project

In this project you will use cell-free reconstitution to explore the minimal requirements for driving cell division in vitro. You will reconstitute dynamic actin cortices in giant unilamellar vesicles (GUVs) and use molecular motors to drive deformation of these cortices. Depending on your background and your own interests, you will gain skills in cell-free reconstitution of protein networks and liposomes. You will use advanced fluorescence microscopy and photoactivation, as well as mechanical probing, to manipulate and regulate active actin cortices. You will help develop custom image analysis software for quantitative analysis of your experimental results. Your experimental efforts will be guided by existing theoretical models, and there will be ample opportunity for collaboration both within our group and outside. We encourage your input and initiative in the project and will work with you to tailor it to your interests.


You participate in a Master study in physics, biology, chemistry or similar, and have an interest in bottom-up biology. You must be available for at least 6 months. A longer period is possible and preferable.


Lucia Baldauf (l.baldauf@tudelft.nl) , Gijsje Koenderink (G.H.Koenderink@tudelft.nl).

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