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UMass Amherst physics professor wins grant to study organization inside cell's space
Date:10/21/2013

AMHERST, Mass. Physicist Jennifer Ross of the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently won a four-year, $800,000 INSPIRE award from the National Science Foundation to uncover and establish the laws for the fundamental workings of cells, which form the basis of tissues in plants, animals and humans.

"Understanding the primary basis of how cells develop and organize can have broad implications for agriculture, energy and technology," Ross says. She will partner with cellular biophysicist Margaret Gardel of the University of Chicago in the research, which they say offers "endless, yet measureable," broad and positive possibilities for discovery in both life and physical sciences.

Their scientific goal is to discover the universal physical laws governing the organization of proteins and organelles inside cells. With NSF support, Ross has built a super-resolution microscope that allows her and colleagues to see, far more clearly than before, molecules 100 times smaller than are visible using a traditional light microscope. They fluorescently tag molecules and watch proteins that control cell processes such as cell division, for example, interact in real time.

As she explains, unlike physical materials such as metals that usually exist in a solid, liquid or gas phase based on whichever requires the lowest energy (the equilibrium state), living things contain active components that drive them far from equilibrium. But the rules governing biological materials and component interactions are not well understood. Living materials have nanoscale protein enzymes, or "motors," that use energy to push and pull the components, such as actin and microtubules, fibers that act as a cell's "bones and muscles" and play key roles in division and motion.

By methodically adjusting variables such as concentration, pressure and component volume in experiments using purified biological proteins in controlled biological systems, Ross and Gar
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Contact: Janet Lathrop
jlathrop@admin.umass.edu
413-545-0444
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Source:Eurekalert  

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