Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Triangles, Squares and Hexagons: manipulating cell shapes

When I first heard of soft lithography and micro-contact printing, it was fascinating for me to think of experiments based on supramolecular assembly. Eric Green's lab in Columbia did some meticulous experiments including DNA curtains (http://thegreenelab.cumc.columbia.edu/ECG%20Home.html). These expeiments were just awsome!!
However, munching more into that line, to think of cellular shape manipulations was difficult for me. Partly because I had little knowledge about cells. I knew cell only though textbooks. But when I met them (by the way, I met Mr Fibroblast, who is quite funny, and very fond of explorations and dancing) I was surprised to see how fluid the PM be (Plasm Membrane and not Dr Manmohan Singh!). Micropatterns of fibronectin into various geometries constrains the cell to assume the shape of the pattern. So now, one can have cells of a distint size and of a particular geometry, say a triangle or a circle or a hexagon!!
What is so great about it?! Okay you have such funny cells but then what next? hmm... These geometrical shapes provide a controllable variable to understand cytoskeletal mechanics. The experiments are homogenous and the equations are simpler...no no.. not that easy..m still fighting hard to get familiar with them.. :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When did social life start?

Living together with a division of labour in order to ease the 'individual' life is something which is not only found in humans but also in several living beings. So, when did it start? A single cell, say cyanobacteria, was capable of surviving on its own. It could survive in such a stringent condition, decreasing the CO2 content of the atmosphere so that it gradually became amiable for evolution of higher order organisms. In Microbiology, some 'single-cell' organisms have a social life. When in trouble (as in the dearth of nutrition), they come together to form a 'fruiting body' in order to disperse to a place with better nutrition facilities. The amzing fact is that, in this process, a significant part of the population has to sacrifice themselves to form the stalk of the fruiting body. Who are these altruistic fellows? Do they do it on their own or they are forced to sacrifice?
Scientists ivestigate this with various angles; right from investigation olecular mechanisms of signalling for stalk formation to game theoretical aspect f cheating and altruism. Well, if the single cell organism is so complicated, can we realy imagine how much complicated 'our' social life is (at least in terms of scientific queries)? What exactly 'being social' means to us?

Monday, February 15, 2010

On Nano

When I joined IISER, I had no idea about what basic science research is. All I knew was that science fascinates me. It fascinates because it is challenging, novel and demanding. To express my candor, I must confess that my first year here was like dwelling in an aerie. Right from entanglement to molecular motors, everything was fascinating! This was an uncanny experience and I fell into a perplexing situation where selection from options apparently demanded a meticulous effort. My NIUS project eventually turned out to be 'nano-based'. I was doing physics and chemistry there with biological molecules like lysozyme. Then I realized that nano is nothing but a novel approach of connecting various disciplines. No matter who is giving a talk on nano, a biologist, a chemist or a physicist, everyone starts with the famous RPF quote. I suspect how much popularity Feynman would have expected for his monologue ' ...plenty of room...'!
Nevertheless, when you go through Nature nanotech or PNAS or ACS or even PRLs and PLs, nano is ubiquitous. From basic scoience point of view, I realize that it is the qustion that we are asking is more important than whether it belongs to so and so area of research or not. Be it a Physical Chemistry problem or a Biophysics problem or a Biochemistry one, getting deeper into the field to uncover the enigma is really challenging and fascinating. It is, after all, nano!