Biological Foundations of Bioengineering

About Speaker:
Paul T. Matsudaira, PhD

“People typically think of how a cell works in terms of chemistry,” says Paul Matsudaira. “But mechanics is just as vital. Everything in life is about movement. If it doesn’t move, it’s probably dead.”

A Whitehead Member, Matsudaira studies the more complex aspects of how cells move: how cells move in three dimensions and how ensembles of cells move together.

In 2007 scientists in the Matsudaira lab and their colleagues created the first fluorescent sensor that measures the forces involved in cell movement. Previously, researchers who wanted to know how much force is exerted when cells travel needed to place the cells on an instrument that bends or flexes, and then calculate the force. In contrast, the fluorescent sensor simply changes color to show how much force is applied.

In other recent work, scientists developed a computational model of a cell moving in three dimensions, overcoming the limits of two-dimensional models that ignore obstacles in the cell’s way.

Matsudaira also investigates how cells store energy to cause movement. He and his co-workers are studying a unique cellular mechanism that works by storing energy on the principle of a spring, instead of burning fuel like a car engine. Understanding how this and other molecular engines work may yield new insights into critical cell processes.

In 2001, Matsudaira founded the Whitehead Institute-MIT BioImaging Center. The Center is based on the belief that complex cellular processes can best be understood by seeing with sophisticated imaging techniques, and then understanding the images through powerful computational methods. It has three major thrusts: cryoelectron microscopy of cellular structures, using a custom-built, remote-controlled cryroelectron microscope; multidimensional high-resolution light microscopy; and quantitative bioimaging bioinformatics.

A professor of biology and professor of bioengineering at MIT, Matsudaira was first appointed an Associate Member of Whitehead Institute in 1985. He earned a PhD in biology from Dartmouth College in 1981. He did postdoctoral research at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen, Germany, and at the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England.

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