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Physics Colloquium: Mary Williard Elting

September 12, 2022 | 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Title: Destructive Testing on Cellular Machinery: Probing Mechanics of Cell Division by Laser Ablation

Abstract: Inside each eukaryotic cell, the microtubule and actin cytoskeletons impart organization by assembling into diverse architectures whose properties are tuned to their mechanical functions. The cell reuses many of the same building blocks for multiple functions by regulating their assembly over space and time. The mitotic spindle is a cytoskeletal machine that has the critical task of segregating chromosomes when cells divide, ensuring that each new daughter cell receives exactly one copy of its genetic information. Meanwhile, the actin-based contractile ring pulls on the plasma membrane (which delineates the boundary of the cell), changing its topology to transform one cell into two. Accuracy in both processes is essential, since mistakes in cell division have grave consequences for human health. While many of the molecules essential for cell division have been identified, many gaps remain in our understanding of the mechanics of this process. How is force exerted in the correct locations at the correct times? How does force propagate between structures with different material properties, and how are those properties themselves tuned for different functions? How can complex cellular machinery self-assemble without a “director” telling all the components where to go? In part, these gaps in our knowledge persist because of the difficulty of exerting controlled mechanical perturbations inside live cells. I will discuss how we meet this challenge by combining live cell confocal imaging, laser ablation, quantitative analysis, and molecular perturbations to probe how the cell builds cytoskeletal structures. With these tools, we test how, where, and when force is generated for robust cell division. In this talk, I will discuss how we have used these tools to reveal cellular mechanisms that prevent, detect, and repair damage to cell division machinery. Together, these mechanisms provide mechanical redundancy and isolation well suited to ensuring accurate cell division amidst a dynamic environment within and outside the cell.

Host: Thomas Schäfer


September 12, 2022
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
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