Postdoc: Information processing in mycorrhizal mycelial networks

Date posted January 2, 2024
Type Postdoc positions

Mycorrhizal fungi are a class of symbiotic soil microbes that form resource exchange partnerships with >80% of all plant species on Earth. These fungi play an important role in nutrient flows underground. Terrestrial plants funnel 13 Gt of CO2 from the atmosphere into these underground mycelial networks, in exchange for soil nutrients they provide in return. Understanding these resource flows generated by mycorrhizal networks is important in predicting and managing global carbon cycles and biodiversity.

Yet despite increasing appreciation of the fundamental importance of what mycorrhizal fungi do, we know very little about how they do it. Recent work suggests that mycorrhizal fungi enact seemingly sophisticated ‘trade  algorithms ’, moving nutrients over long distances in a manner that appears to be responsive to resource distributions and trade partner behaviors. Fungi must integrate a complex array of chemical, physical, and environmental stimuli. How do fungal networks use this information to mediate trade over space and time? How can an organism with such a diffuse networked anatomy process information in a coordinated manner? Are there simple computational strategies employed by fungi?

In this project, you will address these questions experimentally, developing novel methods for interrogating fungal information processing at multiple levels. Building on our preliminary work indicating that intracellular calcium dynamics plays a significant role in fungal communication, you will image calcium dynamics both locally within individual hyphae and globally across the hyphal network. You will analyze the length- and time-scales over which calcium dynamics is coordinated across the network, and further explore possible mechanisms of long-range signal propagation, including cytoplasmic streaming, membrane electrophysiology, and extracellular transport processes. You will work closely with a vibrant team of researchers, including theorists and data scientists to analyze data using concepts and tools from statistical physics, fluid dynamics, network theory, and machine learning. A central aim is to illuminate fungal information processing and its underlying mechanisms with biophysical data both at the level of signaling mechanisms, and the resource fluxes they control for symbiotic trade.

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). In addition to state of the art fluorescence microscopy setups at AMOLF’s Living Systems Center, your work will benefit from access to our first-of-its-kind automated imaging robot for tracking fungal network dynamics. You will be embedded within a rapidly growing team of biologists, physicists and engineers that includes as core members

·         Toby Kiers (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

·         Howard Stone (Princeton University)

·         Vasilis Kokkoris (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

·         Merlin Sheldrake

·         Tom Shimizu (AMOLF)

You will collaborate closely with members of all participating labs through regular consortium-wide Zoom meetings, also with possibilities 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.

For further information on the project, contact Tom Shimizu (shimizu@amolf.nl). For more information about research in the Shimizu Group, see https://amolf.nl/research-groups/physics-of-behavior.

About the group

The Physics of Behavior 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.

Qualifications

The ideal candidate will have a strong background in physics or quantitative biology, and a passion for pioneering a new biophysics of symbiotic fungal information processing. Prior experience with microscopy / image analysis is preferred. Experience with electrophysiology and/or fluid mechanics is an added plus. A PhD in a relevant discipline and proficiency in written and spoken English are required.

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. AMOLF assists any new foreign employee with housing and visa applications and compensates their transport costs and furnishing expenses.

Contact info

Prof.dr. Tom Shimizu
Group leader Physics of Behavior
E-mail: T.Shimizu@amolf.nl
Phone: +31 (0)20-754 7100

You can respond to this vacancy online via the button below.
Please send your:
–  Resume;
–  Contact details of three references 
–  Motivation on why you want to join the group (max. 1 page).
It is important to us to know why you want to join our team. This means that we will only consider your application if it entails your motivation letter.

Deadline is 30th of September 2023. However, applications will be evaluated on a rolling basis and as soon as an excellent match is made, the position will be filled.

Online screening may be part of the selection.

AMOLF is highly committed to an inclusive and diverse work environment. Hence, we greatly encourage candidates from any personal background and perspective to apply.

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