Sweet talking: How do cells use the sugars at their surface to communicate?

PI: Christoph Rademacher, Sophia Rudorf || Requires: Physics, Chemistry, Biology
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Every organism has evolved to cover its cells with a dense matrix of sugars. This fur-like structure made of glycans mediates central aspects of life such as development, differentiation and self-/non-self discrimination. In particular, multicellular organisms use this glycan shield in cell-cell communication processes in which a sender cell encodes information in the composition of the matrix, while a receiver cell utilizes a complex set of glycan-binding proteins to decode the message. How these encoding and decoding steps are accomplished is poorly understood. In particular, there is one important but unpredictable player that has been neglected so far: noise. In this project, we will investigate where the noise comes from and how it affects multicellular communication. For this we develop a simplified cell-based model which we can feed with defined input signals and record the interpretation on a single cell level. Using cutting-edge high throughput techniques we will acquire large data sets. To interpret these data, we will establish a computational analysis scheme based on Machine Learning. Combining a modular, experimental system with powerful computational data analysis, we are then able to explore the fundamental determinants of the glycan code.


A strong interest in learning more about glycobiology as well as data analysis based on Machine Learning is expected. Basic knowledge in mammalian cell culture is a key requirement.
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