Our goal is to understand the molecular mechanisms by which cells move, with particular emphasis on muscle contraction. We examine the mechanics of these processes at the level of individual molecules using laser traps, fluorescence microscopy, and reconstituted motile and adhesive systems. These allow us to better define the molecular underpinnings of many cell movements, and the molecular basis of many diseases. Below are our current areas of active research and example publications.
Chemical bonds between proteins are often designed to bear external forces, and counter-intuitively can actually get stronger the more external force is applied. Such is the case for the bond between actin and myosin. We study the mechanics of force-bearing bonds to discover their roles in the living cell, and to better define structural interactions that cannot be seen in traditional structural biology experiments.
Despite over a century of research, not all is known about how the strength and speed of muscle contraction is regulated. We are discovering new molecular mechanisms for the regulation of contraction by nitric oxide and its endogenous donors via nitrosylation. We have determined which of the myofibrillar proteins can be nitrosylated, and have developed methods for studying actomyosin function under conditions compatible with nitrosylation.
Molecular motors are single molecules whose primary function is to convert chemical energy to mechanical work. One of the most interesting questions is how these motors function and are regulated in the complex cytoplasmic milieu. We combine single-cell models with our single-molecule techniques to study these motors in living cells, including the alga Chlamydomonas and pathogenic parasites of phylum Apicomplexa.
We are turning our expertise in the development of laboratory instrumentation to instead develop novel clinical tools. These include tools for laparoscopic surgery, fecal microbiota transplant (FMT), and other clinical issues in infection control.