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Physics Seminar: Principles of Cellular Behavior-Benjamin Larson, PhD

Wednesday, September 27, 2023 4:30pm to 5:30pm

Principles of cellular behavior: perspective from protist biophysics

Although it may be easy to think of cells as the simple building blocks of more complex organisms such as animals, single cells are capable of remarkably sophisticated behaviors such as navigating dynamic environments, hunting prey, and evading predation. These behaviors emerge from interactions among myriad molecular components in conjunction with physical constraints and mechanisms that dictate interactions between the cell and its environment. Despite rapid advances in knowledge of the molecular constituents of cells, understanding and predicting cellular behaviors remains challenging. I will present results illustrating how quantitative, biophysical perspectives can help navigate this mechanistic complexity and illuminate general principles. I will focus primarily on two groups of microbial eukaryotes (protists): First, choanoflagellates, the closest living relatives of animals, are an ideal system for studying the evolution of morphogenesis due to their ability to form multicellular colonies of various shapes and sizes. Second, the ciliate Euplotes, a cell that walks across surfaces using leg-like appendages, provides an opportunity to investigate how cells control complex behaviors. Quantitative data analysis, simulations, and perturbative experiments implicate physical constraints on cell packing in dictating diverse 3D shapes of choanoflagellate colonies and suggest mechanical coordination of the complex walking gait of Euplotes. Together, these results show how physical constraints and mechanisms can give rise to robust, reproducible biological function despite variability in underlying dynamical components.

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