Research

Membrane fractures

Biological membranes often form circular pores, but they can sometimes break like rigid materials. What determines the pattern formed by a rupturing biomembrane? Why do these fractures sometimes follow dynamics similar to those observed in earthquakes? How can we control pore formation and sealing in the plasma membrane? We are investigating these and related questions.

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The movie shows a fracturing lipid membrane.

Other articles on this problem:

What causes different rupture patterns?
How do the defects in the membranes influence the rupturing?
Can membrane ruptures be sealed?

Artificial taxis

Cell migration can be stimulated by chemicals, temperature gradients, and even electromagnetic fields. In this project, we are interested in building cell-like constructs which can migrate in response to specific environmental cues. Can we build simple, motile lipidic capsules inspired by biological cells? Can these be sensitive to specific compounds in the environment, such as microbial agents, pollutants, or debris in blood vessels? Our goal is to engineer programmable structures to achieve this.

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The movie shows a biomembrane fragment migrating along a temperature gradient of 1 ºC.

Other articles on this problem:

How do biomembranes respond to chemical gradients?
At what concentration of Ca2+, membrane spreading is initiated?

Endoplasmic reticulum dynamics

Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) consists of a complex, three-dimensional mesh of lipidic tubular structures, in which the arrangement of tubes changes rapidly over time. The function of ER relies on its peculiar morphology and dynamics. However, it is challenging to directly measure its properties in cells as a function of time. We need to know more about ER dynamics, the degradation of which has been linked to neurological disorders including Alzheimer's disease. To address this problem, we are fabricating an artificial ER-like network, free of proteins and other intracellular elements. To what extent are these dynamics determined by the material properties of the lipid? What is the impact of Ca2+ in the tubular re-arrangements? Our artificial system will shed light on these and related questions.

Published Dec. 19, 2016 5:51 PM - Last modified Jan. 13, 2017 11:06 PM