PhD position: Structural elucidation of membrane-remodeling protein complexes by cryo-EM

Brussels VIB-VUB Center for Structural Biology

16 Apr 2023


VIB-VUB Center for Structural Biology

Janine Brunner Lab



25 Apr 2023

A fully funded 4-year Ph.D. position is available in the laboratory “Structure and Function of Membrane Proteins” at the VIB-VUB Center for Structural Biology, Brussels, Belgium. The project focuses on the structural elucidation of membrane-remodeling protein complexes from the endoplasmic reticulum and integrates fundamental cell biology and structural biology by cryo-electron microscopy.

The asymmetrical distribution of lipids in biological membranes is a well-established biological paradigm and essential for signaling and organelle-/protein trafficking. While the regulated asymmetry in the plasma membrane of eukaryotic cells is well-studied, much less is known about the symmetry or asymmetry of lipid bilayers in intracellular organelles. The endoplasmic reticulum plays a central role in this context as lipids are retrieved from its cytosolic leaflet for export to acceptor organelles. Interleaflet balance and availability of lipid species in the leaflets of the endoplasmic reticulum membrane are governed by scramblases, a functional lipid transporter class (Brunner et al., Nature, 2014) that only recently was recognized to be required for non-vesicular lipid transport and as essential host factor(s) for virus assembly.

We aim to structurally characterize scramblases involved in lipid export from the endoplasmic reticulum and reveal their roles, organization, and interactome in the cell. In addition, the mechanisms of viral hijacking of scramblase host factors for the assembly and spread of viruses are a matter of investigation.

We apply state-of-the-art methods for the expression and purification of delicate membrane protein complexes in cultured mammalian cells and their subsequent biophysical and biochemical characterization by HPLC, SEC-MALS, and functional reconstitution into liposomes. Proteins will be further characterized in living cells by confocal microscopy located in the department. For structural work, single particle cryo-electron microscopy is extensively utilized at Belgium’s prime location, the Biological Electron Cryogenic Microscopy Center of Flanders (BECM) on the VUB campus.


Candidates must hold a Master’s in biochemistry, biophysics, or related fields. A keen interest in eukaryotic cell biology, membrane proteins, and structural biology is essential. The ability to work organized and independently with excellent communication skills is mandatory as well as proficiency in written and spoken English. Previous experience in structural biology (cryo-EM), membrane protein purification, or cell biology will be preferred. Candidates should demonstrate a strong motivation and commitment to solving scientific problems and a curiosity-driven approach in their work.

We offer

  • A fully funded Ph.D. position for 4 years. Starting date upon agreement.
  • Excellent opportunity for a challenging membrane protein structure project with translational aspects embedded in the core expertise of the team
  • Extensive and excellent training for cryo-EM (sample preparation, data collection, and processing)
  • Dedicated new cell culture lab for adherent or suspension culture of mammalian cells
  • State-of-the-art systems for purification and analysis in vitro and in living cells
  • The applicant will benefit from access to centralized facilities (in particular Nanobody technology, proteomics, cutting-edge microscopy, and structural biology).

How to apply?

Please apply online with a cover letter detailing your background and interest in this position and your full CV including the contact information of two referees (with email, address, and phone number). 

For further information visit and contact Prof. Janine Brunner (

VIB values diversity - in backgrounds and in experiences. The institute needs people from all backgrounds and ways of life to help build a thriving scientific environment. VIB is therefore looking for candidates who are not only strong in their own aptitudes but care deeply about supporting each other's growth. VIB's collaborators are people with different strengths, experiences and backgrounds, who share a passion for science that generates impact in science and in society. Diversity not only includes race and gender identity, but also nationality, age, disability status, sexual orientation, religion and many other parts of one’s identity. All of VIB’s employees’ points of view are key to its success, and inclusion is everyone's responsibility.