Cells use an internal protein/polymer network to maintain structural stability and to accomplish key cell functions such as division and migration. Interestingly, these protein networks are dynamic, and constantly grow and shrink! One of these proteins is actin.
We engineer simplified versions of cell using purified proteins. Below is an example of how we control the growth of a dynamic actin network. We use confocal microscopy to image fluorescent actin that is growing from a surface. We then photo bleach a circle, allowing us to quantify how “dynamic” the material behaves.
One key result: We found that, despite the fact that cells constantly remodel their protein networks, these networks can be used to store mechanical energy. Further, this mechanical energy, which is stored in the bending of filaments, is stable for a long time – longer than the lifetime of a single filament!
These results are published in: Advanced Functional Materials
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