Biological Sciences


Dr Naomi Nakayama

Location: Rutherford G.26B

Telephone: 650 5924



Group members: Eric Thorand (PhD student), Andreas Andreou (PhD student), Jessica Nirkko (PhD student), Tara Wight (PhD student), Cathal Cummins (Postdoc), Maddy Seale (Postdoc), and Marisol Ochoa-Villarreal (Research Assistant)


2015-Royal Society University Research Fellow
2013-Chancellor's Fellow
2012-2013Postdoctoral researcher, Ecole Normale Superieure de Lyon, France
2006-2012Postdoctroal researcher, University of Bern, Switzerland
2006Ph.D. in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Yale University, USA

Research groupings

Institute of Molecular Plant Science, SynthSys Centre of Synthetic and Systems Biology, Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions


Semester 1: The Green Planet (TGP2)

Semester 2: Biodesign, Biological Architecture


Research interests

Being sessile and standing upright on the ground, plants are like buildings. Unlike buildings, however, they can modify their construction and architecture according to the physical environment. They also calibrate their engineering as they grow in size and weight, or when challenged by external forces like rain and wind. Such structural calibration requires sophisticated mechanisms to sense mechanical demands and change their tissue composition and developmental programs in response. We study the biological and engineering mechanisms underpinning the adaptation of living architectures, through highly interdisciplinary and collaborative research. In addition to the methods and concepts used in cell and developmental biology, we employ mechanical engineering approaches such as microfluidics and micro-3D scanning and work with physical and computer scientists.

In order to capture dynamic cellular sensing and responses to mechanical and other types of stressors, we are developing plant single cell platforms: synthetic biology toolkit for plant cell biology and biotechnology, microfluidic plant cell trap, guided cell differentiation systems, and large-scale culturing protocols. We use these new resources to understand how living systems retain physical and physiological balance and train their resilience against adversity.

Our research has strong connections to the society, since plants’ failure to keep standing results in ‘lodging (falling of the shoots to the ground),’ which is a serious problem in agriculture. Our findings will help improve lodging, in addition to revealing fundamental insights into the design principles of biological forms and their plasticity. Our cellular study platforms may facilitate industrial biotechnology using plant cells, which have great potentials to become sustainable sources of food, fuel, and materials essential in our everyday life. We also apply the marvellous ingenuity of natural structures to designing and engineering of novel smart materials that do not require much electrical energy input. We hope to contribute to realizing sustainable future through imaginative innovation and biotechnology.


For prospective PhD students - we welcome highly motivated candidates hoping to study the plasticity and resilience of living systems. The projects possible to take on starting in 2018-19 include:

  • Cell-based identification of genetic determinants for plant resilience
  • Stochasticity of cell de/differentiation
  • Dynamic structural adaptation of living systems to physical challenges
  • Inspired by the Dandelion - development of biomimetic morphing actuators 

If you are interested in pursuing PhD in our group, please contact Naomi ( with your CV and a personal statement explaining why you would like to gain PhD training and why you are interested in this line of research. 

Representative publications

For the up-to-date publication list, please visit the Google Scholar page.