How does yoga improve your flexibility? In the Mar 13 cover story of Cell, we report the discovery of a new form of mechanical memory that adjusts the elasticity of muscles to their history of stretching. We have detected a chemical reaction that increases the elasticity of muscle proteins. Crucially, this reaction targets molecules that have been exposed to a stretching force. This finding changes our understanding of how muscles respond to stretching and may lead to new treatments of muscle disorders.
In collaboration with the group of Jie Yan at the Mechanobiology Institute (Singapore), we have implemented covalent attachment using Halotag technology to pull from single proteins using Magnetic Tweezers (MT). Now, it is possible to study a single protein for days and with improved resolution at low forces. Single molecule AFM and MT techniques are a perfect combination to examine protein mechanobiochemistry. We will soon publish the reconstruction of the free energy of a protein under force, which will challenge classic views of protein dynamics.
Additional research areas in the lab include oxidative folding of virulence factors in bacteria (a follow-up of our 2012 paper in Cell) and the mechanical design of bacterial pili.