PhD-student: Quantitative microscopy analysis of developmental timing

Date posted February 5, 2019
Type PhD positions

During development, vast numbers of cells all need to divide, migrate and change gene expression at the right time in order to successfully grow into an adult animal. However, how timing of development is controlled has remained one of its most enduring mysteries. The nematode worm C. elegans is uniquely suited to study developmental timing. It has only 959 cells that are generated by a program of cell divisions that is almost identical between different individuals. Moreover, because it is fully transparent, all of its cells are visible at all stages of development.

We have recently developed an exciting new microscopy approach that makes it possible to track the behavior of single cells inside the body of moving and growing nematode worms, for the entire 48 hour of their development from fertilized egg to adult (Gritti et al., Nature Comm. 2016). For this project, you will extend this approach to enable the simultaneous imaging of cell division, cell migration and gene expression in many, if not all cells in the worm’s body. By measuring how the timing of all these cellular processes is coordinated throughout the body, both during normal development and in mutant animals where timing of development is perturbed, you will propose and test mechanisms for the body-wide regulation of timing. In addition, you will study how developmental timing slows down, or even pauses, depending on external conditions such as lack of food.

For this project, you will use a combination of C. elegans biology techniques, cutting-edge microscopy, quantitative image/data analysis and mathematical modeling.

About the group

In the ‘Quantitative Developmental Biology’ research group, we use a quantitative, physics-inspired approach to understand how living organisms can reliably build their bodies during development, despite the strong underlying variability on the molecular level. We study these questions using novel microscopy techniques that allow us to follow developmental processes inside individual cells in live animals, combined with quantitative data analysis and mathematical modeling. Our group consists of a highly interdisciplinary mix of people, with backgrounds ranging from theoretical physics to developmental biology.


You will need to meet the requirements for an MSc-degree, to ensure eligibility for a Dutch PhD examination. You have a background in biology, (bio)physics, chemistry, engineering or related disciplines. Prior experience with (C. elegans) biology or programming is not required, but you should have the strong desire to learn these skills.

Terms of employment

The position is intended as full-time (40 hours / week, 12 months / year) appointment in the service of the Netherlands Foundation of Scientific Research Institutes (NWO-I) for the duration of four years. After successful completion of the PhD research a PhD degree will be granted at one of the universities in the Netherlands. Several courses are offered, specially developed for PhD-students. AMOLF assists any new foreign PhD-student with housing and visa applications and compensates their transport costs and furnishing expenses.

Contact info

Dr. Jeroen van Zon
Group leader (Quantitative Developmental Biology)
Phone: +31 (0)20-754 7100

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