The mechanical stability and integrity of the cytoplasm of cells is provided by the cytoskeleton, a semidilute meshwork of biopolymers. Recent research has underscored its role as a dynamic, multifunctional muscle, whose passive and active mechanical performance is highly heterogeneous in space and time and intimately linked to many biological functions, such that it may serve as a sensitive indicator for the health or developmental state of the cell. In vitro reconstitution of “functional modules” of the cytoskeleton is now seen as a way of balancing the mutually conflicting demands for simplicity, which is required for systematic and quantitative studies, and for a sufficient degree of complexity that allows for a faithful representation of biological functions.
The goal of the project is to build such in vitro model systems with increasing complexity to determine the relation between the mechanical function of cross linking molecules and their molecular structure and providing detailed quantitative information for multi-scale models, which in turn will help to address the biological complexity.
The involved research group is strongly interdisciplinary: a detailed understanding can only be obtained by establishing a close collaboration between cell biology, biophysics and mechanical engineering.