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Award Abstract #1344203

INSPIRE Track 1: Condensed Phases and Transitions of Cellular Patterns

Div Of Molecular and Cellular Bioscience
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Initial Amendment Date: September 17, 2013
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Latest Amendment Date: February 26, 2015
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Award Number: 1344203
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Award Instrument: Continuing grant
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Program Manager: Gregory W. Warr
MCB Div Of Molecular and Cellular Bioscience
BIO Direct For Biological Sciences
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Start Date: October 1, 2013
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End Date: September 30, 2017 (Estimated)
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Awarded Amount to Date: $804,800.00
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Investigator(s): Jennifer Ross rossj@physics.umass.edu (Principal Investigator)
Margaret Gardel (Co-Principal Investigator)
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Sponsor: University of Massachusetts Amherst
Research Administration Building
AMHERST, MA 01003-9242 (413)545-0698
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NSF Program(s): INSPIRE,
Biomechanics & Mechanobiology,
Cellular Dynamics and Function,
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Program Reference Code(s): 1114, 7465, 9178, 9179, 8653, 9251
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Program Element Code(s): 8078, 1385, 7479, 1114, 7275



This INSPIRE award is partially funded by the Cellular Dynamics and Function cluster in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biology in the Directorate for Biological Sciences, and the Biomechanics and Mechanobiology Program in the Division of Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Innovation in the Directorate for Engineering.

Intellectual Merit: The scientific goal of this project is to discover the universal physical laws governing the organization of proteins and organelles inside of cells. Materials from the physical world (e.g. water, metal) exist in phases (e.g. solid, liquid, gas) that reflect the lowest energy, or equilibrium state. By contrast, biological matter contains components that drive them far from equilibrium and the rules governing such materials are not understood. Unlike water that can be solid, liquid, or gas, biological matter is active with nanoscale motors (protein enzymes) that use an energy source to push and pull the components, in this case the fibers that form the skeleton of the cell (actin and microtubule filaments). Like typical equilibrium phases, the organization of such super active biological systems depend on the concentration, pressure, and volume that the researchers will methodically adjust in their experiments. The researchers will uncover the "phase diagram" (a diagram describing the shape, activity, or state) of biological matter using purified biological proteins in controlled experimental systems. The research is important to discover how the cell rapidly reorganizes its interior body to respond to its exterior environment, go through cell division, or differentiate into a new cell type. The project will also shed new light on the physics descriptions of systems that use energy, which is still an open, ever evolving challenge for modern physics. It has broad positive possibilities for discovery in both life science and the physical sciences.

Broader Impacts: Science is based on laws and scientists uncover these laws based on experiments, discovery, analysis, and understanding results. The results are typically conclusions that benefit humanity (society) and the natural world we live in. The research project seeks to uncover and establish the laws for the fundamental workings of cells, which form the basis of tissues in plants, animals, and humans. Understanding the primary basis of how cells develop and organize can have broad implications for agriculture, energy, and technology. The positive national possibilities of this research are endless yet measurable. The researchers performing this work are two qualified women in physics who take an active role in physics education and mentoring of students from high school, college, graduate, postdoctoral, and professional education for K-12 teachers and college professors. The researchers train these groups through lectures and hosting students in their laboratories. As two women, the researchers are role models for women and minorities in the sciences. Further, the researchers endeavor to bring science to the public through public lectures, Op-Ed articles, social media networks.


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Murrell M, Oakes PW, Lenz M and Gardel ML.. "Forcing cells into shape: the mechanics of actomyosin contractility," Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol., v.16, 2015, p. 486. 

Stam S, Alberts J, Gardel ML, and Munro E.. "Isoforms Confer Characteristic Force Generation and Mechanosensation by Myosin II Filaments," Biophys J., v.108, 2015, p. 1997. 


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