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Project 4: Sensors and assays to study cell mechanics and endosomal motility

Project overview

Much of our understanding of the cell focuses on the (bio)chemistry of the compounds present in living matter: most prominently proteins, lipids, sugars and nucleic acids. Inherently, this realm is a subject of chemical biology: indeed, chemical biology approaches can generate both sensors for these compounds and reagents to interfere with their abundance and function.

The general goal of this project is to use chemical sensors and biophysical tools to address the cell as a physical object, which is subject to forces, pressures and tensions. These physical constraints have a major impact on the shape and function of cells and tissues, ultimately feeding back and determining the biochemistry of living matter.

Within this frame, assays and reagents are generated to detect and study the physical properties of three key objects: the plasma membrane, the cytoskeleton and the endosomal pathway. Strategically, mitosis is highlighted as a subject where cell dynamics are most obvious, with an emphasis on asymmetric cell divisions, during which two daughter cells are generated with different properties, as this scenario of broken symmetry offers an optimal system to test innovative tools.

Project’s members develop sensors, calibrate reagents and establish assays to elucidate the role of membrane mechanics in different cell types and tissues during membrane fission in endocytosis and cytokinesis, during cell size control in asymmetric division, epithelial morphogenesis and/or epithelial buckling (via the use of SiR fluorescent probes, flipper probes in different cell types and tissues, CPD probes as a cell delivery system, quantum dot delivery, optogenetics, SNAP-tag and high spatial resolution).