Funding from the Volkswagen Foundation for Isabella Guido

July 27, 2021

As part of the Volkswagen Foundation's funding initiative "Experiment!", Dr. Isabella Guido of the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization has successfully applied for financial support. The funding is aimed at researchers from the field of life sciences and engineering who wish to implement particularly innovative and risky new research ideas. In her project, 'Collective behavior of synthetic cilia arrays', the group leader from the Department of Fluid Physics, Structure Formation and Biocomplexity will investigate flows generated by biological organisms.

Fluid transport is a crucial and essential biological principle. Many organisms use so-called cilia or flagella for this purpose: small thread-like projections on cells that move in a specific rhythm. When they occur in high density, they can create a flow on the cell surface through synchronized movement. This is for instance crucial for the removal of foreign particles, but also important for the processes underlying embryonic development. "Even though the principle of flow generated by cilia or flagella has been known for a long time, it is not yet fully understood how they synchronize their beat," explains Isabella Guido. "In the funded project, we want to synthetically reproduce such microstructures to study and better understand the behavior of natural cilia and flagella."

In search of the conditions for synchronization

The synchronized organization of cilia arrays plays a crucial role in many biological processes (3D reconstruction)

The scientist came up with the idea for the project during her previous work in this field: she had already investigated the physical principle behind the beating behavior of individual cilia. She found that several synthetic cilia spontaneously synchronize under certain conditions and perform a coordinated movement. "We now want to investigate what are the conditions that lead to such an organization," Isabella said. To do this, she and her team are creating groups of cilia that are driven by motor proteins, as in nature. Defined compositions and external conditions could make it possible to decipher the physical principles of organization. This is a decisive advantage over corresponding studies in a biological context: Due to complex cellular processes and interactions, it is often difficult to observe the isolated cilia beat in a natural setting.

Promotion of an innovative idea

Particularly because observation at the biological level poses these challenges, the synthetic replication of a cilia array is an exciting new approach. This was also the opinion of the jury of the funding initiative "Experiment!", which will support the project over the next 12 months. The Volkswagen Foundation initiative has supported numerous scientific projects since its launch in 2012. With 824 project applications submitted, the number of applicants was particularly high this year, while at the same time only 18 projects were selected for funding. "I am very happy that my project is one of them," Isabella Guido is pleased to say. "Designing synthetic transport systems on the nanometer scale is currently only possible to a limited extent, despite state-of-the-art technology. Our research could help to further advance this development."

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