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Measuring Intermolecular Forces in Biology

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Intermolecular forces, which include electrostatic, van der Waals, and entropic interactions, are key in many biological processes. For example, motor proteins actively exert forces on cytoskeletal filaments as they drive cell division or motility. On the other hand, mechanoreceptor molecules respond to forces exerted on cells by external stimuli. We use a high-resolution, three-dimensional optical tweezers apparatus to measure intermolecular frictional and elastic forces that are central to two biological processes: (a) the frictional forces associated with the electrostatically mediated diffusion of the kinesin-related protein MCAK along microtubules, and (b) the elastic force necessary to deform the ankyrin-repeat domain thought to gate the transduction channel of Drosophila mechanoreceptors. In each case, the measurements test key hypotheses about how these proteins work to fulfill their cellular functions.

This talk is part of the BSS Formal Seminars series.

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