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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Dr. Margarita Staykova

Associate Professor in the Department of Physics
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 43598
Room number: 257
Biophysical Sciences Institute Executive Board, Biophysical Sciences Institute
Associate Professor in the Centre for Materials Physics
Associate Fellow in the Institute of Advanced Study

(email at


I finished my undergraduate studies in Biophysics at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria. Shortly after, I went to Germany on a DAAD fellowship to do my PhD with Prof. J. Gimsa at the University of Rostock, where I graduated in 2006. During that time I studied theoretically the interaction of high frequency electromagnetic fields with cellular media, and in particular with lipid membranes. As a postdoc in the group of Dr. R. Dimova at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces (Germany) I switched to an experimental project on the electro-manipulation of lipid vesicles. In 2009, I moved to Princeton University to the Complex Fluid Group of Prof. Howard A. Stone, where I laid the foundation of my current research on the biophysics of biological membranes. Since October 2013 I am working as a lecturer in the departments of Physics and Chemistry at Durham University.

Research Interests

  • Biophysics
  • Biological membranes
  • Functional interfaces
  • Living materials

This objectives of the group are to understand the functional principles of biological membranes and capture them in artificially designed smart interfaces. We use engineering approaches and optical tools for quantitative measurements. We are part of the Biophysical Sciences Institute and the Durham Center for Soft Matter.

Currently our efforts are focused on elucidating the mechano-sensitive architecture and composition of the cell interface.

Protrusions expelled from compressed lipid bilayers. Shape is controlled by the applied strain and volume.

Cell interface- the crosstalk between structures

The cell interface is a multilayered ensemble, with the plasma membrane in the middle, the contractile actin cortex on the inner side, and an extracellular matrix or a cell wall, on the outer side. In this project we study how the coupling between these structurally and mechanically different layers shape the surface functionality of cells. For example, we were recently able to demonstrate that a lipid membrane coupled to an elastic substrate expels or absorbs reversibly lipid protrusions in response to changes in the substrate area, providing us with mechanical insights on how cells regulate their surface area (see Staykova et al., PRL13 and PNAS11- see picture on the right). Our goal is to build a realistic model of the cell interface, which explains the wrinkling, buckling, budding, tubulation and other vital forms of membrane deformation.

Molecular principles of membrane mechano-transductuion

It becomes apparent that the surface tension of biological membranes is a key regulator of numerous physiological processes in cells, like membrane traffic, cell motility, surface area regulation, etc. Tension arises from physical stresses both internal (from the cytoskeleton) and external acting on the membrane, and also from biochemically induced stresses from the binding of proteins or the insertion of small molecules into the membranes.

To understand the mechano-sensitivity of biological membranes we engineer devices that would allow us to apply well-defined mechanical stresses to model membranes of particular composition. Our goal is to relate the large-scale membrane deformations to changes on the molecular level, i.e. lipid packing, polysaccharide conformation, molecular adhesion and insertion.

Research Groups

Centre for Materials Physics

  • Experimental Soft Matter

Department of Chemistry

  • Soft Matter and Interfaces

Department of Physics

Selected Publications

Chapter in book

  • Miller, Ethan, Stubbington, Liam, Dinet, Celine & Staykova, Margarita (2019). Biophysical insights from supported lipid patches. In Advances in Biomembranes and Lipid Self-Assembly. Iglič, Aleš Rappolt, Michael & García-Sáez, Ana J. Elsevier. 29: 23-48.

Journal Article

  • Le Nagard, Lucas, Brown, Aidan T., Dawson, Angela, Martinez, Vincent A., Poon, Wilson C. K. & Staykova, Margarita (2022). Encapsulated bacteria deform lipid vesicles into flagellated swimmers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 119(34).
  • Roux, Anabel-Lise Le Tozzi, Caterina Walani, Nikhil Quiroga, Xarxa Zalvidea, Dobryna, Trepat, Xavier, Staykova, Margarita , Arroyo, Marino & Roca-Cusachs, Pere (2021). Dynamic Mechanochemical feedback between curved membranes and BAR protein self-organization. Nature Communications 12: 6550.
  • Miller, Ethan, Voitchovsky, Kislon & Staykova, Margarita (2018). Substrate-led cholesterol extraction from supported lipid membranes. Nanoscale 10(34): 16332-16342.
  • Stubbington, Liam, Arroyo, Marino & Staykova, Margarita (2017). Sticking and sliding of lipid bilayers on deformable substrates. Soft Matter 13(Themed collection Soft Matter Emerging Investigators 2017): 181-186.
  • Zeraik, A., Staykova, M., Fontes, M., Nemuraitė, I., Quinlan, R., Araújo, A. P. & DeMarco, R. (2016). Biophysical dissection of schistosome septins: Insights into oligomerization and membrane binding. Biochimie 131: 96-105.
  • Rahimi, M., Regan, D., Arroyo, M. Subramaniam, A. B. Stone, H. A. & Staykova, M. (2016). Shape Transformations of Lipid Bilayers Following Rapid Cholesterol Uptake. Biophysical Journal 111(12): 2651-2657.
  • Macnaghten, P., Owen, R. Stilgoe, J. Wynne, B., Azevedo, A., de Campos, A., Chilvers, J., Dagnino, R., di Giulio, G., Frow, E., Garvey, B., Groves, C., Hartley, S., Knobel, M., Kobayashi, E., Lehtonnen, M. Lezaun, J. Mello, L., Monteiro, M., Pamplona da Costa, J., Rigolin, C., Rondani, B., Staykova, M. , Taddei, R., Till, C., Tyfield, D., Wilford, S. & Velho, L. (2014). Responsible innovation across borders: tensions, paradoxes and possibilities. Journal of Responsible Innovation 1(2): 191-199.
  • Staykova, M., Arroyo, M., Rahimi, M. & Stone, H.A. (2013). Confined bilayers passively regulate shape and stress. Physical Review Letters 110(2): 028101.
  • Staykova, M., Holmes, D.P., Read, C. & Stone, H.A. (2011). Mechanics of surface area regulation in cells examined with confined lipid membranes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108(22): 9084–9088.
  • Knorr, R.L., Staykova, M., Gracija, R.S. & Dimova, R. (2010). Wrinkling and electroporation of giant vesicles in the gel phase. Soft Matter 6(9): 1990-1996.
  • Dimova R., Bezlyepkina, N. Jordö, M. Knorr, R. Riske, K. Staykova, M., Vlahovska, P., Yamamoto, T., Yang, P. & Lipowsky, R. (2009). Vesicles in electric fields: Some novel aspects of membrane behavior. Soft Matter 5(17): 3201-3212.
  • Staykova M., Lipowsky R. & Dimova R. (2008). Membrane flow patterns in multicomponent giant vesicles induced by alternating electric fields. Soft Matter 4(11): 2168-2171.
  • Simeonova, M. & Gimsa, J. (2006). The influence of the molecular structure of lipid membranes on the electric field distribution and energy absorption. Bioelectromagnetics 27(8): 652-666.
  • Simeonova, M. & Gimsa, J. (2005). Dielectric anisotropy, volume potential anomalies and the persistent Maxwellian equivalent body. Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter 17(50): 7817-7831.
  • Simeonova, M., Wachner, D. & Gimsa, J. (2002). Cellular absorption of electric field energy: influence of molecular properties of the cytoplasm. Bioelectrochemistry 56(1-2): 215.
  • Wachner, D., Simeonova, M. & Gimsa, J. (2002). Estimating the subcellular absorption of electric field energy: equations for an ellipsoidal single shell model. Bioelectrochemistry 56(1-2): 211.

Show all publications


Selected Grants

  • 2017: Mechanics of the Cell Interface (£100328.00 from Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council)
  • 2017: Development of microfluidic technologies to study the behaviour of healthy and diseased red blood cells and their precursors (£13409.35 from )
  • 2016: Learning from Biology to design stimuli-responsive capsules (£37829.20 from Mondelez International)