Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions
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PhD position: Imaging cytoskeletal filament organization at the molecular scale

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    Aix-Marseille Université
    Biological sciencesBiology
    First Stage Researcher (R1)
    10/04/2017 23:00 - Europe/Brussels
    France › Marseille
    H2020 / Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions COFUND

Cell division is a fundamental biological process that is essential for multiple aspects of animal physiology, including cell proliferation and differentiation, tissue growth and repair. Its dysfunction leads to several human pathologies, including tumour development and tissue degeneration. Cell division involves strong cell shape changes and thus heavily relies on the redistribution and cooperation of force-generating cytoskeletal filamentous proteins, notably actin filaments and microtubules (Fig.1). While the requirement of actin and microtubules for successful cell division is not questioned, their precise organization and interaction with other proteins is still poorly understood. In particular, little is known about the functional contribution of septins, a family of proteins which was recently recognized as a novel component of the animal cytoskeleton. Septins are essential for the successful completion of cell division: septin depletion leads to unstable and delayed furrow formation, furrow regression as well as failure to cleave the intercellular bridge. Importantly, septins form protomers which can polymerize into filaments, and they also associate with actin and with microtubules. Thus, a complete understanding of how cytoskeletal filaments contribute to biological functions in cell division and more generally cell shape changes requires a deeper knowledge of how septins, actin filaments and microtubules organize with respect to each other, which is still lacking.

This project aims at developing optical and biological tools to decipher the organization of septins and their interaction with actin and microtubules during cell division. The topic addressed is highly interdisciplinary in cosupervision between I. Fresnel (ED 352 Physique et Sciences de la Matière) and Centre de Recherche en Cancérologie de Marseille (CRCM) (ED 062 Sciences de la Vie et de la Santé). Key open questions will be addressed: first, there is no direct evidence that septins form filaments in animal cells. Second, septins exist in different isoforms: how each isoform differs in terms of organization and function is unknown. Third, it remains a challenge to elucidate how septins organize with respect to actin and microtubules and to identify the molecular determinants that localize septins to these two cytoskeletal subsystems.

Addressing all three questions ultimately boils downs to the challenge of measuring inter-filament organization (orientation, spacing, alignment); however, quantitative imaging tools that combine molecular specificity, high spatial resolution and real-time measurements of filament organization are currently limiting.

To address these questions, dedicated optical imaging methods will be implemented with the project co- supervisor at I. Fresnel, in collaboration with the intersectorial partner HORIBA, with the goal to measure filament organization at high spatial resolution and potentially in real time. The project is thus inherently fully integrated in the research axis "imagerie". These measurements will be implemented using polarized fluorescence imaging, in which I. Fresnel has developed a recognized expertise [1,2], on two systems: in vitro reconstituted cytoskeletal filaments from purified components, in collaboration with the international partner (AMOLF, The Netherlands), and dividing mammalian cells, with the co-supervisor at CRCM. In vitro studies will decipher the behaviour and local structure of single filaments and of filament assemblies, providing reference signatures for studies in cells. Functional studies in cells will then be performed at different stages of cell division. The molecular mechanisms at the origin of inter-filament organization will be investigated using septin mutants impaired for polymerization or with modified selectivity for actin or microtubules.


Impact. This project is of broad scientific interest and will have impact in multiple fields, including cell and developmental biology, biophysics and mechanobiology. It further promises to benefit society by advancing our understanding of the role of septins in human disease. There is compelling evidence on links between septin dysfunction and infertility, neurological diseases and tumorigenesis. Given that the biological function of septins is inherently linked to their ability to form filaments, this project should provide new means to assess septin function in health and disease, thus impacting biomedical research. At last, this project will provide a new imaging tool of interest for cell biologists, with possible extensions in tissues. The polarized fluorescence module developed in this project, supported by the company HORIBA which is recognized worldwide in instrumentation, can ultimately be used as a universal add-on, implementable on a large variety of optical microscopes where structural imaging is required.


DOC2AMU is co-funded by the prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND action within the H2020 Research and Innovation programme of the European Union and by the Regional Council of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, with a contribution from A*MIDEX Foundation. Within this programme, the PhD fellows will sign a three-year work contract with one of the 12 Doctoral Schools of AMU; these contracts come with numerous advantages.

These PhD fellowships are remunerated above that of a standard French PhD contract with a net salary of approximately 1625€/month (net amount may vary slightly; health insurance is included).

The mobility allowance is a fixed allowance and family status is not taken into consideration. The mobility allowance can, for example, cover the travel cost of family visits. A 500€ travel allowance per year and per fellow is also provided for the fellows to travel between Marseille and their place of origin.

Doctoral fellows will also benefit from:

- 1 welcoming day that will be organized jointly by the Project Management Team (PMT) and the Department for Student Services and International Mobility of the PACA Regional Council. The fellows will receive a welcome pack at their arrival at the PACA Regional Council containing useful information (city map, transports information, money exchange offices, university restaurants, activities possible on and outside the campus and emergency numbers);

- Support in the administrative issues such as support by the PMT in application to legal papers (immigration related paperwork: visa application, resident card application/carte de séjour), affiliation to social security for health care support; assistance with administrative papers (registration to the Doctoral Schools/University) and to other procedures like opening a bank account;

- Installation in university housing: Each fellow will have the possibility to obtain an accommodation proposed by the CROUS (Regional Centre for University and Scholar Services/Centre régional des oeuvres universitaires et scolaires), a partner organisation of the programme. The fellow can ask for an accommodation in a residential housing offering high quality services on Aix-Marseille Campus, located either in Aix-en-Provence (at the Résidence internationale de Cuques) or in Marseille (at the Résidence Madagascar) in a studio apartment reserved in advance by the CROUS. The rent of the proposed studios is between 300 and 500€ per month;

- Local support by the administrative support staff members to provide contacts with local doctoral researchers to facilitate the integration in the local student life and cultural activities, administrative procedures, and global workings of the university and city.

The fellows will be covered by a compulsory health insurance (MGEN) covering 70% of medical expenses. In case of sick or maternity leave of the fellows, the health insurance pays 90% of salaries. The fellow can also subscribe to a complementary health insurance that will cover all the other costs not covered by the compulsory health insurance. The fellows will also benefit from the support provided by the AMU Common service for social and cultural actions (Service commun d’action sociale et culturelle (SCASC)). The purpose of the SCASC is to support AMU staff in their professional and personal lives. Its two main scope of intervention are community care and culture through: payments of allowances (moving assistance, child care on Wednesdays, recreation activities); allowances (subsidised canteen on campus); sport activities on university sites and reduced tickets for shows and theatres in the PACA region.

-Tailored training and personalised mentoring: Fellows will define and follow a Personal Career Development Plan at the beginning of their Doctoral thesis and will have access to a variety of training options and workshops. The dedicated Supervisory Committee (STSC) will follow and advice the fellow at least once a year on his/her training strategy regarding his/her job prospects.

-Financial support for international research training and conferences participations: A contribution to international training will be provided for the benefit of the fellow. It will comprise of a 10 000€ per year allowance for international mobility (covering international travels related to the thesis work).

-A research allowance of 12 600€, covering costs associated with scientific activities of the fellow to cover certain expenditures of her/his project. These include, as example: consumables and/or supplies; equipment (eligible only if it is needed for the research project of the employed fellow); fees for scientific journals, and memberships in scientific associations.

Eligibility criteria

The following eligibility criteria must be fulfilled in order for your application to be evaluated by the Selection Committee. Applications not meeting the criteria will not be evaluated and will be rejected. For an application to be eligible:


  • You must be in the first four years (full-time equivalent research experience) of your research career (career breaks excluded) and not yet been awarded a doctoral degree. The beginning of your research career is calculated from the time your Masters degree (or equivalent) was obtained. Career breaks refer to periods of time where the candidate was not active in research, regardless of his/her employment status. The rule is checked by reference to the employment status of the candidate in the domain of research and also by reference to the normal outputs of research activity during the period e.g. scientific publications, patents, active participation in conferences or workshops;
  • You must be at the time of recruitment, in possession/or finalizing the master degree or equivalent degree which would formally entitle to embark on a doctorate.
  • You must be available to engage in the programme at the starting date (October 1st, 2017)
  • At the time of recruitment, not to have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in France for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to the reference date (October 1st, 2017). Compulsory national service and/or short stays such as holidays in France are not taken into account.
  • Your application must be submitted on the Web Portal before the deadline: April 10th, 2017 at midnight.
  • It must consist of a complete Application Package. Incomplete or missing documents are not acceptable.

All applicants will receive a receipt of application.

Applicants who do not pass the eligibility check will be informed by email and the reason(s) for rejection will be concisely stated.

Selection process

Once the administrative eligibility check is passed, the selection process for candidates will be two-fold. First, the selection committee invites the doctoral supervisors to contact candidates applying for their thesis projects.

The selection committee, chaired by the Director of the Doctoral College and consisting of the coordinators of the PR2I[1] and external experts[2], will carry out a preliminary evaluation of candidates and will select and support 1 candidate per thesis project, taking into account the doctoral supervisor’s assessment of the candidates’ quality.

Each doctoral supervisor will prepare a letter of introduction on the selected candidate that will be added to the candidate’s application documents for the next and final stage of the selection process.

For the final selection stage, the committee gathers its members with additional members: 1 representative of the Regional Council, 1 representative of the non-academic partners, 1 external expert selected for his/her knowledge of the MSCA and the COFUND projects and the European Project Manager.

The Final Selection Committee will have at its disposal the complete application documents of the 24 candidates and the accompanying letter from the doctoral supervisor.

The candidates will be invited for an interview during face-to-face meetings with the committee if feasible, or per video-conferencing. Financial resources are planned to ensure a 2 days stay of the candidates who have the possibility to come to AMU.

Based on the scientific quality of the doctoral thesis topics, on the correspondence between candidates’ profiles and the doctoral thesis subject, and candidate’s motivation, the committee will select up to 12 candidates taking into account the accompanying letter from the doctoral supervisor. The rejected candidates will be ranked in a complementary list and will receive a detailed evaluation on their application.

At every stage of the selection process, the candidates will be informed on the status of their file, and will receive an Evaluation Summary Report if they fail in a selection stage, detailing their strengths and/or weaknesses. They will be entitled to initiate a redress procedure as stated by the national law if they contest the recruitment procedure. Eligible candidates will receive an acknowledgement when they pass a selection phase. The European Project Manager (EPM) will be available to answer the queries of the candidates through email or telephone.

[1] AMU’s interdisciplinary and intersectoral research poles.

[2] They will sign an appointment letter, including an agreement of nondisclosure/ confidentiality and conflict of interest before beginning their work. These rules will be adhered to at all times, before, during and after the evaluation.

Web site for additional job details

Offer Requirements

    Physics: Master Degree or equivalent


The candidate is expected to be of biophysics background with knowledge in biology and a high interest in experimental optics. The work involving both optical instrumentation developments and biological sample preparation, the student will be involved in an interdisciplinary work where in vitro / cell sample developments, experimental imaging and data analysis will be equally important. A previous experience with interdisciplinarity during the master thesis is thus preferable, in particular involving optical microscopy. He/She should be motivated by the exploration of novel questions in biology. He/She should also be interested in the development of an instrument of interest for industry, since the detection device envisioned in this project can possibly lead to industrial development. The candidate will work for part of his/her time with an international collaborator and participate in several national and international conferences: he/she should therefore be capable of integration in international environments.

Work location(s)
1 position(s) available at
Institut Fresnel

EURAXESS offer ID: 180285