At all scales, biological entities are separated from their environment by surfaces. For instance, embryos are delimited by a cell monolayer, and cells are delimited by a lipid bilayer. We explore the common biological and mechanical mechanisms by which these surfaces are deformed during physiological processes such as membrane traffic or organogenesis.
Our experimental strategy is a bottom-up approach, using reconstitution assays to reproduce in vitro processes seen in living systems at every scale. We quantify relevant parameters of reconstituted processes (biological, chemical or physical parameters), and compare them with theoretical predictions done in collaboration with theory groups. This way, we understand the mechanisms at play. Overall, our goal is not to discover the function of genes or molecules involved in a specific physiological process, but rather to provide robust quantitative data about how they work to perform their function.
Our lab is highly interdisciplinary, mixing biologists, physicists and chemists. Each one has its own scientific identity, but is interacting with scientists from other areas within the lab. Thus, you don't need to come to the lab with interdisciplinary training, that what our lab will provide to you.
Many biological systems are made of viscoelastic surfaces. For example, the lipid bilayer that delimitates cells from their environment is a 2D fluid interface/barrier that can be deformed easily and is resistant to stretch.
The plasma membrane is being constantly remodelled through processes such as endocytosis in membrane traffic. Another example, but at a different scale, is the epithelium, a cell monolayer that separates organs from the external environment. These epithelia grow and fold during development to form organs, being viscoelastic surfaces. We are interested in understanding how the unique physical properties of lipid membrane and epithelia respectively contribute to membrane traffic and organogenesis.
To study this, we use in vitro models to measure relevant physical parameters, such as forces, rigidity, tension, and diffusion constants.
Mechanics of membrane traffic
Cells and organelles are separated by 2D fluid lipid membranes, which have peculiar mechanical properties. Our group is interested in how these mechanical properties constrain the action of proteins involved in membrane deformation, fission and fusion, in particular in membrane traffic.
The main systems we study are:
Mechanics of Growing Epithelia
Monolayers of polarized cells called epithelia are common in embryonic development, and many tissues and organs are formed and differentiated by the folding of epithelia.
Processes like gastrulation, neurulation, formation of villae are based on the invagination or evagination of epithelium. As epithelia can be partially described as 2D fluid surfaces, looking alike lipid membranes, we are interested in understanding how the peculiar mechanical properties of epithelia are involved in tissue formation and organogenesis.