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.
ATTENTION: NOW ACCEPTING POSTDOCTORAL APPLICANTS FOR 2015
We are seeking highly motivated candidates for three postdoctoral research positions at the protein mechanics laboratory of Columbia University in the City of New York. Our work focuses on using single molecule techniques to understand the dynamics of proteins under force. We use AFM and Magnetic Tweezers techniques to apply force to engineered protein constructs and measure their unfolding, collapse and folding behavior. We also study how chemical reactions such as disulfide bond reduction depend on mechanical forces. The laboratory is interdisciplinary and attracts an eclectic mixture of biologists, physicists, engineers and chemists who share an interest in developing the new field of mechanical biochemistry. We are a fully equipped biochemistry laboratory where we engineer a wide range of protein constructs for our single molecule experiments. In addition, we design and build our single molecule instruments, we write all its software, and develop our own mechanical models. The laboratory is focused on understanding three systems at the molecular level; the elasticity of the giant muscle protein Titin, the mechanical design of the Pili of gram-positive bacteria and the Talin/Vinculin force transduction system. We are well funded by NIH and NSF grants. All our projects aim at advancing knowledge in this new field of science, while at the same time exploring the medical significance of our findings. Columbia University provides access to housing near the campus, health care, and competitive salaries.