Postdoc: Biophysics of symbiotic networks and communities
Symbiotic partnerships can drive the evolution of remarkably complex social behaviors, even in simple organisms. Recent experiments provide evidence that symbiotic microbes demonstrate transport and trade behaviors reminiscent of human economics. What is the repertoire of strategies at play in these biological ‘markets’ and how do they depend on the specific combination of species and strains involved? To what extent is the strategy of one partner responsive to that of others, and how are the necessary communications/computations implemented mechanistically?
In this project, you will address these questions experimentally, developing novel methods for tracking symbiotic trade across time and space, combining the state of the art in fluorescent labelling, automated microscopy and image analysis. A focal symbiotic partnership is between arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and plant roots, which form an extended symbiotic network of ecological/agricultural importance in the soil. You will build on our existing automated imaging experiment of this symbiosis using in vitro root cultures, introducing new fungal and bacterial species in the mix. Results will be analyzed using concepts from statistical physics and network theory. A central aim is to illuminate trade strategies and their underlying mechanisms with biophysical data on network growth, resource fluxes and their control by symbiotic context.
The project builds on our prior work to characterize resource fluxes using quantum-dot labelled nutrients to track symbiotic trade (Whiteside et al., 2019, Curr Biol), and will be embedded within an HFSP-funded consortium to pioneer the biophysics of fungi in symbiotic contexts. The team includes biologists, physicists and engineers from the labs of
- Toby Kiers (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
- Howard Stone (Princeton University)
- Hirokazu Toju (Kyoto University)
- Tom Shimizu (AMOLF)
You will collaborate closely with members of all participating labs through regular consortium-wide Zoom meetings, also with possibilities (when the pandemic subsides) for in-person research exchanges through lab visits. Your work on this project will have direct impact on real-world ecology/conservation efforts through SPUN (Society for the Protection of Underground Networks), a non-profit organization recently launched by a member of our team (Prof. Kiers) see here for a recent feature in Science.
About the group
The Systems Biology group (Group Leader: Tom Shimizu) focuses on developing a physical understanding of biological behavior. We develop in vivo experiments to measure dynamics at multiple spatial and organizational scales, as well as theoretical modeling and data analysis frameworks to connect phenomena across those scales. Primary model systems are the bacterium E. coli, the nematode C. elegans, and symbiotic microbial communities.
We seek candidates with a strong background in experimental physics or quantitative biology and an interest in the biophysics of symbiosis. Prior experience with microscopy and image analysis is preferred.
You need to meet the requirements for a doctors-degree in physics or related field, and have very strong social, organizational and communication 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 3 years, with a salary in scale 10 (CAO-OI) and a range of employment benefits.
Initially for 1 year, extendible subject to performance and funding.
AMOLF assists any new foreign employee with housing and visa applications and compensates their transport costs and furnishing expenses.
Prof.dr. Tom Shimizu
Group leader Systems Biology
Phone: +31 (0)20-754 7100
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