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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Membrane shaping in cilia formation and function

  • Supervisors: Dr Mark van Breugel
  • Funding: SBBS Start-up Studentship
  • Deadline: 15th June 2023

The following fully-funded PhD studentship is available in the School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences with an expected start date of Sept 2023.

Research environment

The School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences at Queen Mary is one of the UK’s elite research centres, according to the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF). We offer a multi-disciplinary research environment and have approximately 150 PhD students working on projects in the biological and psychological sciences. Our students have access to a variety of research facilities supported by experienced staff, as well as a range of student support services.

The van Breugel group is a leading research group elucidating the roles and molecular mechanisms of centriole protein complexes in health and in disease through biochemical, structural and cell biological approaches. 

Training and development

Our PhD students become part of Queen Mary’s Doctoral College which provides training and development opportunities, advice on funding, and financial support for research. Our students also have access to a Researcher Development Programme designed to help recognise and develop key skills and attributes needed to effectively manage research, and to prepare and plan for the next stages of their career.

The chosen PhD student will obtain training in protein-biochemical, high-resolution structural and cell biological methods and be led towards scientific independence.

Project description

Centrioles are one of the largest protein-based structures in cell. They are indispensable for life and their dysfunction is implicated in a plethora of human disorders. Centrioles template the formation of cilia, hair-like cell projections that are essential for cell signalling, sensing and fluid-flow generation. Many aspects of cilia formation are currently ill-understood. A case in point are the extensive membrane shaping and remodelling events that occur during cilia formation. While it is clear that these events are brought about by centriole-associated protein complexes, it is not well understood how these protein complexes function mechanistically, how they are organised or how they are regulated.

The advertised PhD project is focussed on shedding light on these crucial open questions by utilising biochemical, structural and cell biological approaches. The project will start with the Chibby1-Fam92 complex (1) that we have begun to characterise recently (2) and is part of a work package for which we recently have been awarded a BBSRC grant.

Together, this project will elucidate an understudied but fundamental process in vertebrates and provide insights, tools and approaches to dissect the intricate role of membrane shaping in cilia formation and tackle its dysfunction in disease.

The applicant will be enthusiastic about deciphering molecular mechanisms and discovery-driven approaches. The role will entail the day-to-day independent running of the project and its research tasks, the preparation of manuscripts using high-quality data as well as oral presentations.

As a member of the van Breugel group, the PhD student will be embedded within a thriving community of structural and cell biology research experts of the Blizard institute of QMUL.


The studentship is funded by Queen Mary and will cover home tuition fees, and provide an annual tax-free maintenance allowance for 3 years at the UKRI rate (£19,668 in 2022/23).

For international students interested in applying, please note that this studentship only covers home tuition fees and students will need to cover the difference in fees between the home and overseas basic rate. Tuition fee rates for 2023-24 are to be confirmed. Details on current (2022-23) tuition fee rates can be found at: 

Eligibility and applying

Applications are invited from outstanding candidates with or expecting to receive a first or upper-second class honours masters degree in an area relevant to the project, i.e. biochemistry and structural biology. The applicant must have hands-on experience in recombinant protein expression, purification and characterisation and ideally also has some knowledge / experience in structural biology techniques (EM, protein crystallisation).

Some knowledge / experience in cell biological techniques such as tissue culture, transfection, immunofluorescence and light microscopy  are desirable but not mandatory. The candidate must have high levels of self-motivation, organisational skills and a demonstrated track record of working productively and relatively independently under supervision. 

Applicants from outside of the UK are required to provide evidence of their English language ability. Please see our English language requirements page for details: 

Informal enquiries about the project can be sent to Dr van Breugel at Formal applications must be submitted through our online form by 15th June 2023.

The School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences is committed to promoting diversity in science; we have been awarded an Athena Swan Silver Award. We positively welcome applications from underrepresented groups. 

Apply Online


(1) Lapart JA, Billon A, Duteyrat JL, Thomas J, Durand B. Role of DZIP1-CBY-FAM92 transition zone complex in the basal body to membrane attachment and ciliary budding. Biochem Soc Trans. 2020 Jun 30;48(3):1067-1075. doi: 10.1042/BST20191007. PMID: 32491167.

(2) van Breugel M, Rosa E Silva I, Andreeva A. Structural validation and assessment of AlphaFold2 predictions for centrosomal and centriolar proteins and their complexes. Commun Biol. 2022 Apr 5;5(1):312. doi: 10.1038/s42003-022-03269-0. PMID: 35383272; PMCID: PMC8983713.

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