Cell morphogenesis: From polymer physics to synthetic cells
The cytoskeleton is a biopolymer network that supports life by enabling both mechanical integrity and active shape changes of cells. Its filamentous architecture provides an efficient means of providing shape and mechanical stability. Unlike conventional synthetic polymers, however, the cytoskeleton can actively reconfigure itself. Cells are able to actively adjust their stiffness in response to environmental conditions and produce forces that drive cell division and motility. To understand the physical basis of these active material properties, our lab reconstitutes cell-free model systems that mimic certain functions of cells from purified cellular components. Together with theoretical modelling, experiments on ‘synthetic cell’ systems can uncover how molecular interactions lead to cell-scale functions. I will discuss how the concerted dynamics of the four different structural proteins that make up the cytoskeleton (actin filaments, microtubules, intermediate filaments, septins) enable cells to dynamically change shape, and how we are implementing these insights to build a synthetic cell.
Prof. Dr. Gijsje Koenderink (1974) is full professor in the Bionanoscience Department of the TU Delft. She studied chemistry at Utrecht University (1998) and did a PhD in physical and colloid chemistry (2003) in Utrecht as well. She then switched to the field of biophysics, working as a Marie Curie postdoctoral Fellow at the VU University Amsterdam (2003-2004) and Harvard University (2004-2006). In 2006 she established the Biological Soft Matter group at the AMOLF institute, which moved to Delft in 2019. Koenderink’s group focuses on quantitative experimental studies of the material properties of cells and tissues. She combines bottom-up synthetic biology approaches with multiscale physical characterization from single molecule force spectroscopy to rheometry. Her group closely collaborates with biological and biomedical groups to address the role of cell and tissue mechanics in disease and tissue regeneration. Prof. Koenderink received various distinctions, including an NWO VIDI (2008) and VICI (2019), elected membership of the Young Academy of the KNAW (2008), ERC Starting Grant (2013), the P-G. de Gennes Prize (2018), and the Dresden Physics Prize (2020). She is a member of the ENW-NWO Round Table Physics, Editorial Board member of Physical Biology, Advisory Board member for Soft Matter, and and member of Faculty Opinions.