Post Doc in Biophysical Modelling of Left/Right Symmetry Breaking in Mirror-Image Flowers
Wageningen University

Post-Doc position in Biophysical Modelling of Left/Right Symmetry Breaking in Mirror-Image Flowers

Published on
May 6, 2021

Location Wageningen

We are looking for

Are you a versatile modeller who likes to address deep fundamental questions in biology and think about them from multiple perspectives? Are you keen to strengthen your models through interaction with expert biologists and enjoy communicating theoretical concepts in a non-technical way? Then this could be the inspiring position you are looking for!

Left/right symmetry breaking is a very fundamental issue in the early development of multicellular organisms. In most cases, the early events of left/right specification are not experimentally accessible, because any failure will be lethal – imagine, for example, having two hearts, or none. In mirror-image flowers, however, the process is exceptionally accessible.

In this project, you will combine multiple computational and theoretical models of plant cytoskeleton, cell wall and tissues, to address two fundamental questions:
1) How can apparently non-chiral changes in the dynamics of the plant cytoskeleton result in consistent twisting of plant organs?
2) How is left/right symmetry breaking established in the relevant flowers?
Throughout, you will closely interact with experimentalists from various labs within the PI’s network and use their data to parametrize and challenge your models.

This position is part of an international HFSP funded project on the fundamentals of left/right symmetry breaking, using the genetically controlled left/right bending of style and pollinating anther in mirror-image flowers as a model system. This unique system allows us to address the fundamental question of left/right symmetry breaking in a very holistic way, from molecular/biophysical mechanism to ecological and evolutionary impact in a single context. This makes the project very attractive for candidates with a broad interest in biology.

More information on the consortium can be found

We ask

  • You are an enthusiastic and highly motivated scientist with a PhD degree in theoretical / computational biology, biophysics, or physics or related discipline;
  • You have proven strong quantitative skills, including modelling and computer programming (ideally including C++ and Git). Experience with multiple model formalisms is a plus; 
  • You can work both independently and in a team;
  • You think discussing complicated theoretical concepts with experimentalist is fun;
  • You have a broad interest in biology: although this project focuses on cell biology/tissue mechanics, affinity with plant biology, ecology and evolution is important for the larger project;
  • You have excellent communication skills in English, both speaking (incl. presenting) and writing;
You are encouraged to demonstrate your experience with concrete examples of your work in and outside academia. 

We offer

Wageningen University & Research offers excellent terms of employment. A few highlights from our Collective Labour Agreement include:
• sabbatical leave, study leave, and paid parental leave;
• working hours that can be discussed and arranged so that they allow for the best possible work-life balance;
• the option to accrue additional flexible hours by working more, up to 40 hours per week;
• there is a strong focus on vitality and you can make use of the sports facilities available on campus for a small fee;
• a fixed December bonus of 8.3%;
• excellent pension scheme.
In addition to these first-rate employee benefits, you will of course receive a good salary. 

We offer an exciting and challenging position for 3 years. You will be based at Biometris and be part of an international network. Depending on your experience, we offer a competitive salary from a minimum of €  2.790,- to a maximum of € 4.402,- for a full working week of 38 hours in accordance with the Collective Labor Agreement Dutch Universities (scale 10). We offer you a temporary term contract for 36 months with a probation period of 12 months. Ideally, you will start on 1 October 2021, but this is negotiable.

More information

For more information about this position please contact the project PI: dr. Eva Deinum, Associate professor in the Mathematical and Statistical Methods Group, by email
For more information about the department contact Eva Deinum or Prof. dr. Peter van Heijster, head of the  Mathematical and Statistical Methods Group, by email 

For more information on the whole HFSP project, you can also contact the project coordinator, Prof. dr. Michael Lenhard by email

Inspired by this project, but not a modeller yourself? See for the other post-doc positions within the project.

For more information about the procedure, please contact

Do you want to apply?
You can apply directly using the apply button on the vacancy page on our website which will allow us to process your personal information with your approval. 
We would like to receive a single PDF including a CV, a motivation letter explaining why you are interested in this position and the larger project. Also mention in this PDF two confirmed references (names and addresses, including email address and phone number).

This vacancy will be listed up to and including June 30, 2021
In this first round please only send your resume and motivation letter. Any other documents will not be taken into consideration at this stage.

We are

Wageningen University & Research
The mission of Wageningen University and Research is “To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life”. Under the banner Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen University and the specialised research institutes of the Wageningen Research Foundation have joined forces in contributing to finding solutions to important questions in the domain of healthy food and living environment.

With its roughly 30 branches, 6.500 employees and 12.500 students, Wageningen University & Research is one of the leading organisations in its domain. 

Plant Sciences Group - Biometris is one of the largest groups of quantitative scientists in North-Western Europe. We develop statistical and mathematical methods for the quantification of biological processes and processes in our living environment. These methods are applied and validated in practice and are often available as software packages. We cover a wide range of application areas, from gene to ecosystem and from product to production chain. Our goal is to bring quantitative methods to life!

HFSP Project Summary:
Left-right (LR) asymmetry is a fascinating feature of many plants and animals. Striking examples include the asymmetric placement of internal organs in vertebrate or the left- vs. right-ward coiling of snail shells. Such LR asymmetries raise a number of fundamental questions: (1) How is symmetry broken in a consistent manner to tell left from right? (2) How is this translated into an asymmetric morphology? (3) What is the functional importance of LR asymmetries? (4) How did they evolve? While some of these questions are beginning to be answered in a few animal models, an integrative understanding that would link the molecular and structural determinants of symmetry breaking to their functional impact and their evolution is still missing for any example. Here, we will aim for such an integrative understanding by using the mirror-image flowers of enantiostylous plants as an eminently tractable model. Studying such an LR asymmetry in plants for the first time may also uncover novel molecular mechanisms of symmetry breaking.

In mirror-image flowers the female style is either deflected to the left or to the right of the midline, while one of the male anthers points to the other side. This reciprocal arrangement is thought to result in segregated pollen deposition on pollinators’ bodies and thus to promote outcrossing. In three families, a form of mirror-image flowers has evolved where all flowers on an individual are of the same type and the direction of style deflection is under simple genetic control; a dominant vs. recessive allele at a single genetic locus determine right vs. left deflection of the style and of the anther in the opposite direction. In all three families, this has evolved from a state where left- and right-styled flowers occur together on the same plant, providing a clear example for the genetic fixation of an initially variable phenotype. As such, mirror image flowers are an outstanding model for investigating LR asymmetry, as they combine a simple genetic control of directionality with a clear hypothesis for their functional relevance and a plausible scenario for their evolution.

Therefore, to obtain an integrative understanding of LR asymmetry we will (1) elucidate the genetic and chromosomal basis of mirror-image flowers; (2) determine the molecular and structural basis of their symmetry breaking; (3) characterize their cell-biology and development; (4) analyze the functional significance of mirror-image flowers; and (5) investigate their evolution at molecular and ecological levels. Together this will result in unprecedented insight into the biology of LR asymmetry.

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