Membrane Interactions and Dynamics

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP


Biological membranes aid with the organisation of living matter by compartmentalising different parts of a living system and creating different conditions. Structures embedded in the membrane, called inclusions, such as ion channels and enzymes can also help tailor the separate environments to a different set of reactions and processes. When the inclusions are curved they can bend the membrane and lots of these interacting together can create interesting landscapes on the surface governed by the physics of the elastic membrane. This project investigates what happens when there are lots of inclusions that are no longer symmetric - like bananas rather than bowls. I hope to understand how the patterns formed can aid biological function and how these models can incorporate other known phenomena such as forces pulling on the membrane from the cytoskeleton or due to activity from pumps.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/T008784/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2028
2445782 Studentship BB/T008784/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024
Description Liquid-liquid phase separation can form droplets in living cells, like droplets formed in a mixture of oil and water. These droplets, called biomolecular condensates, are crucial to organising the cellular environment and have been proposed as one of the key steps in the development of life from the primordial soup. The formation of condensates is understood to occur as a consequence of the separate components (e.g. oil and water) having fine-tuned interactions that mean there is an energy cost when the two components are nearby. We developed a thermodynamically accurate theory of a mixture with a catalyst and observed that phase separation can be driven without these specific equilibrium interactions and instead by purely non-equilibrium chemical reactions. When this new class of phase separation occurs, the overall reaction rate in the mixture is reduced, resulting in an automatic feedback mechanism in the mixture, driven by the physics. This mechanism is a new piece in the puzzle of how life is able to finely control the outputs of complex metabolisms.
Exploitation Route The present study has the potential to be a valuable contribution to the field of chemical synthesis and catalysis. The theoretical framework proposed in this study may be tested experimentally. Empirical data generated through such testing may provide a means of verification for the theoretical underpinnings of this research, as well as identifying areas for the theory to be improved. Secondly, by incorporating interactions into the system, we will develop a more nuanced understanding of the interplay between the equilibrium and nonequilibrium factors. Finally, the mechanism described in this study could be used to develop novel approaches to both understanding and designing complex reaction pathways.
Sectors Chemicals,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology