Research interests

We are a theoretical biophysics group working on modelling and computer simulations of cell and tissue architectures. Our research activities can be roughly divided into three areas. (1) Close to the molecular level, we use stochastic equations (Langevin and master equations) to model association and dissociation dynamics of biomolecular bonds. This includes our work on the stochastic dynamics of adhesion clusters, on dynamic force spectroscopy and on rolling adhesion of white blood cells in hydrodynamic flow. (2) Closer to the cellular level, we model the way adhering cells generate, transmit and sense forces through large supramolecular assemblies like focal adhesion and stress fibers. In this context, we are also interested in signaling to the actin cytoskeleton through the small GTPases from the Rho-family and in the role of mechanics in structure formation of cell ensembles (including wound healing and development). (3) We are very interested in collaborating with experimental groups. Such projects usually involve some data analysis and image processing and provide most of the motivation for our more theoretical work. For example, we have already worked with experimental data for cell traction on elastic substrates (traction force microscopy, eg for fibroblasts or malaria parasites), for rolling adhesion in flow chambers, for biomolecular rupture as probed by the atomic force microscope or the biomembrane force probe, for cell deformation by micromanipulation, and for cell and tissue shape in patterned environments. In the future, we plan to integrate these different lines of research into a systems-level understanding of cell and tissue architectures. In particular, we plan to work on growth and fracture dynamics of large protein networks, on adhesive dynamics of many cells in shear flow, on cell and tissue shape in three dimensions and on the dynamics of tissue morphogenesis.


Methods applied

Modelling cell and tissue architectures requires the use of a large range of theoretical methods from statistical mechanics (including physics of phase transitions), soft matter physics (mainly polymers and membranes), stochastic and non-linear dynamics (eg reaction kinetics). For collaborations with experimental groups, experience with data analysis and image processing as well as good communication skills are required.