Cellular morphogenesis and cytoskeleton anisotropy.

About this project

Project description

In this project, we aim to investigate how pattern formation and morphogenesis in biological cells is controlled by microscopic aspects of the cortical actin network organization. Particularly we are interested in understanding how the anisotropy and nematic organization of the cortical cytoskeleton impacts the macroscopic mechanical properties of the cellular cortex and how this gives rise to specialized cell morphology such as filopodia, lamellipodia, cell division, etc.
We plan to make use of a Q-tensor based active gel theory in order to formulate a continuum mechanical model of the cellular cortex, describing the cell as a closed surface in three-dimensional space.
Governing dynamical equations will be derived using Onsager’s variational principle. This allows for transparent coupling of chemo-mechanical feedback by carefully describing the energy storage, sources of dissipation and power for the system under consideration.
Effective parameters will be determined by coarse-graining a microscopic model on the cytoskeletal level describing actin filaments, actin associated proteins and molecular motors.
We will use computational simulation and linear stability analysis to identify parameter regimes that give rise to such emergent phenomena. This will enable su to identify potential mechanisms of cortical pattern formation which might potentially involve coupling with a morphogen chemical as in classical theories of pattern formation through Turing mechanisms. Through computational simulation we will investigate the deformation of the cellular shape and obtain testable predictions under conditions that can be experimentally controlled.
This research will highlight new approaches to synthetic biology and biomimetic systems. It will pave the way for investigating cell surface structures emerging from the interaction of plasma membrane and underlying cortex.


Theoretical continuum mechanical model for the cortical structure and dynamics cortex based on Q-tensor theory.

Computational model explaining the control of cellular morphogenesis through cortical anisotropy.

Elucidating mechanisms for pattern formation through emergent phenomena on the scale of cortical cytoskeleton organization.

Information for applicants

Essential capabilities

Computational mechanics and/or numerical methods

Desireable capabilities

Theoretical Mechanics, Applied Mathematics

Expected qualifications (Course/Degrees etc.)

Quantitative Background (Engineering, Physics, Mathematics)

Project supervisors

Principal supervisors

UQ Supervisor

Dr Dietmar Oelz

School of Mathematics and Physics
IITD Supervisor

Assistant professor Nikhil Walani

Department of Applied Mechanics