... understanding life in molecular detail

Dr Ralf Richter

Physical chemistry of biological systems; Bottom-up synthetic biology

We aim to understand the mechanisms of assembly and function of soft biological interfaces, to advance knowledge and for applications in the life sciences. We tailor make and study well-defined model systems to directly assess interactions at the supramolecular level.

Current major projects include:
  • Glycan-rich extracellular matrices: mechanobiology & physico-chemistry
  • (Super)selective targeting of cells and tissues
  • Physical chemistry of nucleo-cytoplasmic transport

The self-organization of molecules into dynamic and hierarchical supramolecular assemblies is a key feature of biological systems. We are particularly interested in extracellular matrices that are rich in glycans; these microscopic hydrogel-like assemblies are important regulators of cell function and inter-cellular communication. Another main object of our research is the nuclear pore permeability barrier, a nanoscopic meshwork of intrinsically disordered proteins that makes macromolecular transport between the cytosol and nucleus of cells selective and is crucial for orderly gene expression. Resolving how these systems work provides new approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treat disease, and inspiration for the design of new functional materials.

To understand how biological functions emerge from the assembly and dynamic reorganization of biomolecules, we adopt a multidisciplinary approach that combines living cells and tissues with well-controlled models of tunable complexity. Exploiting surface science and engineering tools, we tailor-make model systems by the directed self-assembly of purified components on solid supports. For the quantitative analysis of these biomimetic systems, we develop a toolbox of physico-chemical in situ analysis techniques including quartz crystal microbalance (QCM-D), atomic force microscopy (AFM), spectroscopic ellipsometry (SE) and optical microscopy methods. We use concepts from biological and soft matter physics to rationalize the properties of soft biological matter, and collaborate closely with biochemists and biologists to integrate our bottom-up biosynthetic approach with work at the levels of molecules, cells and living organisms.

Detailed research programme                  Close ▲

Associate Professor

Starting Grant (ERC, 2012); Chair of Excellence (Nanoscience Foundation, France, 2012)

Postdoc, and Senior Research Associate (Heidelberg, Germany) 2005-2007
Research Group Leader (Max Planck, Germany) 2008-2016
Chair of Excellence (Grenoble, France) 2012-2015
Research Group Leader (CIC biomaGUNE, Spain) 2007-2018

Garstang 5.55r
School of Molecular and Cellular Biology
0113 34 31969


Selected Publications

  1. H. S. Davies, D. Debarre, N. El Amri, C. Verdier, R. P. Richter and L. Bureau 2018. Elastohydrodynamic lift at a soft wall. Phys Rev Lett 120:198001.

  2. D. Thakar, F. Dalonneau, E. Migliorini, H. Lortat-Jacob, D. Boturyn, C. Albiges-Rizo, L. Coche-Guerente, C. Picart and R. P. Richter 2017. Binding of the chemokine CXCL12α to its natural extracellular matrix ligand heparan sulfate enables myoblast adhesion and facilitates cell motility. Biomaterials 123:24-38.

  3. R. Zahn, D. Osmanovic, S. Ehret, C. Araya Callis, S. Frey, M. Stewart, C. You, D. Gorlich, B. W. Hoogenboom and R. P. Richter 2016. A physical model describing the interaction of nuclear transport receptors with FG nucleoporin domain assemblies. eLife 5:e14119.

  4. G. V. Dubacheva, T. Curk, R. Auzély-Velty, D. Frenkel and R. P. Richter 2015. Designing Multivalent Probes for Tunable Superselective Targeting. Proc Nat Acad Soc USA 112:5579-5584.