Dr Alexandra Brand


Royal Society University Research Fellow

Dr Alexandra Brand

Contact Details

Telephone: +44 (0)1224 437495
+44 (0)1224 437460
Email: a.brand@abdn.ac.uk
Address: MRC Centre for Medical Mycology, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences & Nutrition, University of Aberdeen, Room 4.22 Institute of Medical Sciences, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD. Office tel: +44 (0)1224-437495.

The Brand Lab is part of the Aberdeen Fungal Group:


The AFG is affiliated to the Wellcome Trust Strategic Award: Medical Mycology and Fungal Immunology Group:



 For PhD opportunities:  see Further Info section



2013       Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology

2011-present  Co-Lead, Microbiology Research Programme, University of Aberdeen

2010       British Mycological Society Berkeley Award for Early-Career Scientists

2010       Medical Research Council New Investigator

2009       Royal Society University Research Fellow

2004       PhD in Microbiology, University of Aberdeen

2000       Bsc Biochemistry 1st Class, University of Aberdeen

2005       Access Course, University of Aberdeen

Research Interests

Directional growth in polarised cells

Eukaryotic cells that grow by polarised extension perform specialised, essential functions in vertebrates, plants and fungi.  This disparate group of cells, which includes neurons, pollen tubes, root hairs and fungal hyphae, all share a similar function – they extend through their environment in order to make contact with their own specific target.  To be successful, they must be able to interpret local signals that tell them which direction to grow (navigate) and they must be able to change their direction of growth if necessary (steer).  The environmental signals that help neurons, pollen tubes and fungi to navigate differ greatly but they may share similar steering mechanisms because the cell components that regulate polarised growth are highly conserved.  We are using the dimorphic fungus, Candida albicans, as a model organism in which to study how polarised cells navigate and steer.  C. albicans displays tropic, or pre-programmed, growth behaviour under certain conditions and we are using these responses to study the molecular links between environmental signalling and the machinery that drives tip re-orientation.   We have shown that loss of normal regulation in the hyphal tip correlates with the inability of the fungus to form normal lesions in internal organs during systemic infection.  We want to understand which signals within the human body influence how the hyphal tip behaves during disease progression.

Applied Mycology

Fungi are nature's great re-cyclers and can degrade all kinds of organic and inorganic material into the simple building blocks needed for new growth.  The downside of this phenomenon for human health is that fungi biodegrade medical plastic devices, causing them to malfunction and need replacing.  The upside is that fungi produce a host of bioactive compounds that can be harnessed for medical and industrial use.  With collaborators in the Pharmacy and Chemistry Departments at Queen's Belfast and the University of Edinburgh, respectively, we are interested in both combating and exploiting the complexities of fungal growth.


Dr Karl Malcolm, School of Pharmacy, Queens University Belfast (Enhanced drug delivery)

Dr Andrew Goryachev, Computational Cell Biology, University of Edinburgh (Cell polarity)

Dr Barnaby Greenland, University of Reading (Pharmaceutical chemistry)

Professor Peter Sudbery, University of Sheffield  (Polarised growth in fungi)

Cheryl Gale, MD, University of Minnesota  (Fungal tip regulation and pathogenesis)

Dr Dominic Campopiano, School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh

Mr Kim Ah-See, ENT Consultant, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary

Dr Marco Thiel, University of Aberdeen (Mathematical Biology)

Professor Paul Janmey, University of Pennsylvania (Cell mechanics)

Professor Joe Heitman, Duke University, N. Carolina (Evolution & host-sensing in pathogenic fungi)

Dr Steve Diggle, University of Nottingham (Pseudomonas aeruginosa quorum-sensing)

Dr Alison Crossley, Department of Materials, University of Oxford (Surface chemistry)


Research Grants

2015  Wellcome Trust ISSF Seed-corn award

2015  Wellcome Trust Strategic Award studentship

2015  University of Aberdeen Elphinstone studentship

2014  BBSRC Eastbio PhD studentship

2013  SEB-funded 4-year PhD studentship

2013  EU Marie Curie studentship 'FungiBrain' with N. Gow, Co-ordinator: Nick Read, Manchester

2012  MSD-SULSA award

2012  MRC Centenary Fund Award

2012  BMS Summer Studentship

2011  Royal Society Equipment Grant

2011  BMS Summer Studentship

2010  BBSRC PhD studentship

2009 MRC New Investigator Grant

2009 - 2017 Royal Society University Research Fellowship

2007 BBSRC Researcher Co-Investigator (project grant with Prof Neil AR Gow)

Teaching Responsibilities

3rd-Year MC3504 Microbiology practical course

MSc MC5507  Current Techniques in Microbiology

1st-Year SM1501 The Cell 'Fungi - Moulds, Manufacturers and Models'

Honours Year Statistics workshop

Personal tutor for Biochemistry, Genetics, Immunology and Biotechnology undergraduates.

External Responsibilities

BBSRC Committee E Member

Royal Society Newton International Fellowship Panel

British Mycological Society - Publications Officer


Admin Responsibilities

Co-Lead Microbiology Programme

Academic Line Manager

The tropic growth of Candida albicans hyphae is calcium-dependent.


False colour image of thigmotropic growth of C. albicans hyphae on a microfabricated quartz slide with a ridge height of 3.25 ?m.  Growing hyphal tips change direction on contact with obstacles in the substratum.  Deletion of calcium ion channels, or removal of calcium from the growth medium, reduces the sensitivity of hyphal tips to changes in the substratum.

C. albicans hyphae form 2-dimension sinusoidal curves and 3-dimensional helices when grown on semi-solid  medium.  Septa are generally located at the apices of alternate curves, suggesting that curve formation is linked to the cell-cycle.  The formation of curved hyphae is attenuated in mutant strains where calcium ion channels have been deleted, so normal calcium flux and homeostasis is required for the initiation of this growth behaviour.

Like many tip-growing cells, C. albicans hyphae align towards the cathode in an applied electric field.  This effect can be heightened or reduced by the addition or chelation of calcium ions, respectively.


Group Members                                      Past Members

Tina Bedekovic                                         Dr Silvia Wehmeier

Mariana Almeida                                       Emma Morrison                                     

Ben Rutter                                               Dr Darren Thomson                             

Ijeoma Okoliegbe                                     Dr Brandon Childers

Angela Lopez

Maria-Louise Williams


Public Engagement

Royal Society 2016 Summer Science Exhibition ' Killer Fungus' : https://royalsociety.org/science-events-and-lectures/summer-science-exhibition/exhibits/killer-fungus/

The Royal Society 'I wasn't always a Scientist: https://royalsociety.org/policy/projects/leading-way-diversity/i-wasnt-always-a-scientist/

The Hay Festival, 2014:  'The Next Big Thing': http://www.hayfestival.com/p-8222-liz-tunbridge-alexandra-brand-lucie-green-and-ana-cavalcanti.aspx and https://royalsociety.org/events/2014/05/the-next-big-thing/

Naked Science broadcast:  http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/podcasts/show/2011.08.28/

Naked Science webpage: http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/content/interviews/interview/1783/

PhD Opportunities

Not Just Any Old Ion: The Role of Ion Fluxes in Cell Polarity Site Determination

BBSRC EastBio 4-year PhD programme, closing date 14th December 2015

For how to apply: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/clsm/graduate/research/eastbio-application-809.php

Supervisors: Dr Alexandra Brand, Dr Andrew Goryachev (Edinburgh) and Professor Peter Swain (Edinburgh)

Project Overview and Aim

The establishment of new growth at the correct cell site is fundamental to all living organisms. Research into this important process has previously focussed on the role of intracellular proteins and overlooked the influence of surrounding ion fluxes. The aim of this project is to understand how these fluxes influence the site of polarity establishment and growth in the fungus, Candida albicans. The approach will be to generate fluorescent reporter proteins with which to map fluxes of protons, calcium and Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) during live-cell imaging of cell polarisation and growth responses in specialised microfluidics chambers.

Background and Objectives

C. albicans is a fungus that causes a variety of infections in humans by forming invasive polarised cells called hyphae, whose ability to respond to directional cues is essential for tissue invasion and disease [1]. Using strains carrying fluorescently-tagged polarity proteins, we showed that polarity complexes change their position in response to external cues such as touch and small electric fields, and that constitutive activation of specific proteins can completely reverse the direction of polarisation [2,3 & unpublished data]. Our hypothesis is that external cues alter local intracellular ion concentrations to influence the positioning of polarity protein activity. To test this hypothesis, the objectives of the project are:
1.Generate new molecular tools, including fluorescent reporter strains for protons and ROS, to be used for the first time in C. albicans.
2.Adapt existing electric field and hyphal contact assays into novel microfluidic formats.
3.Use live-cell imaging and analysis software to quantify changes in polarity protein localisation and ion fluxes during cell polarisation, steering and growth.

Research Training Provided

The student will be based in the world-renowned Aberdeen Fungal Group (~ 80 people) which specialises in the biology of human pathogens, fungal immunology and anti-fungal drug discovery. Basic mycology and cell culture techniques will be learned, along with molecular methods including PCR, cloning, gene synthesis, sequencing and expression analysis. The student will use real-time fluorescence microscopy and analyse imaging outputs using a variety of software packages, with the potential to develop new analysis methods to inform a systems biology approach (Goryachev, Edinburgh). Training in customised microfluidics chamber design and manufacture will be given (Brand, Aberdeen & Swain, Edinburgh). Together, these skills will provide the student with a strong background in the tools and technology required to underpin a range of career choices in the field of eukaryotic cell biology.

Funding Notes:
This project is funded by the EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership. Applications for EASTBIO studentships will be invited from excellent UK* students for projects available across the four partners. To be eligible you must have at least a BSc (Hons) 2.1 undergraduate degree and fulfil the Research Funding residency criteria. Please check the BBSRC eligibility criteria. *Some EU applicants may be eligible if they meet Research Council residency criteria.

1] Brand A, Vacharaksa A, Bendel ., Norton J, Haynes P, Henry-Stanley M, Wells C, Ross K, Gow NA and Gale CA (2008) ‘An internal polarity landmark is important for externally-produced hyphal behaviours in Candida albicans.’ Eukaryot Cell 7: 712-20.

2] Thomson DD, Wehmeier SW, FitzRoy J, Janmey P, Caballero-Lima D, Crossley A and Brand AC* (2014) ‘Contact-induced apical asymmetry drives the thigmotropic responses of Candida albicans hyphae.’ Cell Microbiol 17:342-54. 3] Brand AC*, Morrison E, Milne S, Gonia S, Gale CA and NAR Gow (2014) ‘Cdc42 GTPase dynamics control directional growth responses.’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 111:811-6. * Corr. Author.


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