Van der Waals-Zeeman Colloquium

Tuesday, 23 March 2010, 16:00

Soft matter physics of the living cell

Dr. Gijsje Koenderink

The aim of the Biological Soft Matter group at AMOLF is to understand the physical mechanisms that govern the (active) mechanics of cells. We study in parallel two different model systems of cells. The first approach is to reconstitute artificial cells from purified cytoskeletal proteins within cell-sized microchambers or liposomes. This approach enables us to dissect the roles of polymer physics, motor proteins, and active filament (de)polymerization. The second approach is to reconstitute artificial tissues by growing cells inside simplified extracellular matrices. This approach enables us to study cellular mechanoresponsiveness. Key technologies are advanced microscopy and quantitative image analysis, optical tweezer manipulation, microrheology, and rheology. We strive to learn biological design principles that can be applied to new supramolecular materials, while at the same time we contribute a physics component to the fields of mechanobiology and tissue engineering. In this colloquium I will focus on our work with active cytoskeletal model systems, which are far out of equilibrium due to the collective activity of many molecular motors. I will show how simple model systems reveal mechanisms of nonequilibrium patterning and contractile dynamics.