Postdoctoral Fellow: Biophysics of antibody-bacterial glycan interactions



The Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health, belongs to the department for Health Sciences and Technology. Here, engineers, materials scientists, biochemists and biologists work together to solve some of the most pressing societal issues, such as microbiota-associated diseases and food-bourne pathogen infections.

Project background

Efficient anti-bacterial vaccines, capable of inducing immune responses in the intestine and respiratory tract, are crucial tools in the fight against antimicrobial resistance. They can also be used to alter the composition of the intestinal microbiota, or to alter the trajectory of bacterial evolution in the intestine. However, development of such vaccines currently proceeds by trial-and-error, based on extrapolation of immunological concepts developed for viral proteins. In fact, effective immunity against bacteria typically requires high-affinity antibodies against bacterial surface glycans (O-antigens, capuslar polysaccharides, Teichoic acids). These are typically, long, flexible, hydrophilic polymers and thus pose significantly different biophyiscal problems for antibody binding and induction than a small, rigid protein. This project aims to open up rational design of anti-glycan vaccines by improving our understanding of how anti-glycan antibody responses are induced and how such antibodies bind to long glycan structures. 

Job description

We are looking for an outstanding postdoctoral researcher with experience in atomic force microscopy and single molecule force measurements to join an interdisciplinary team, aiming to fill a critical gap in our current understanding of antibacterial immunity. This position will be co-supervised by Prof. Raffaele Mezzenga (Food and Soft Materials) and Prof. Emma Slack (Food Immunology).

In this project, you will work closely with a molecular biologist and an immunologist to study the effect of glycan structure and packing on antibody binding. Models resulting from biophysical analysis can be directly tested in vivo for superior vaccine efficacy and biological function, allowing rapid translation from single-molecule analysis to direct medical relevance. State-of-the-art AFM infrastructure is already available within the Food and Soft Materials group, and expansion to complimentary techniques such as surface plasmon resonance, cryoelectron microscopy and micromanipulation is possible via existing collaborations. Therefore, there is considerable potential for a motivated individual to develop the project both scientifically and technologically.
Via linked NCCR and Botnar Foundation funded projects, knowledge gained in the context of this project will be translated into human and veterinary medicine effectively in real-time. As such we offer a unique environment for a biophysicist to bridge between fundamental biomolecular analysis and real-world applications.

The position is fully funded for up to 5 years. The start date is negotiable.

Your profile
A PhD in in biophysics or a related discipline is a pre-requisite. We are particularly looking for an individual with experience in atomic force spectroscopy or related single-molecule force measurements. Exceptional individuals interested in moving into this field from physics, materials sciences, or related disciplines will also be considered.

ETH Zurich
ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.

We look forward to receiving your online application with the following documents:

  • Curriculum vitae, including publication list
  • Motivation letter
  • Contact details for two potential references

Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered.

For further information about the Food Materials Science group and the Food Immunology group please visit our website: Questions regarding the position should be directed to Prof. Emma Slack and Prof. Raffaele Mezzenga by email:, (no applications).

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ETH Zurich





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