Juan Vanegas University of Vermont 2021/4/24 | Under Pressure: How Mechanical Forces “Shape” the Function of Membranes and Proteins
From Federica Bianco on September 14th, 2021
While biological function is often characterized in terms of chemical reactions, especially at the nanometer scale, mechanical forces from external stimuli such as pressure or tension play an essential role in processes such as osmotic regulation, cellular shaping and sorting, transport, cardiovascular regulation, and touch sensing among many others. Within the context of these biological functions, my research focuses on two fundamental yet interconnected questions: 1) What is the role of chemical structure in the elastic properties of biomaterials such as membranes? and 2) What are the force transduction mechanisms in the activation of mechanosensitive molecules such as proteins? I will present our ongoing work that tackles these two questions through a combination of state of the art microscopic stress/elasticity calculations and novel steered molecular dynamics (MD) methods to rapidly and systematically explore the structure and energetics of mechanically driven transitions. These two approaches bridge MD simulations, continuum models, and experiments to unravel the role that molecular interactions play in the nano- and meso-scale mechanical behavior of biological systems.