Model Cytoplasm: From Fundamentals to Asymmetric Division of Cytomimetic Vesicles

Project: Research project

Project Details


This award by the Analytical and Surface Chemistry program (with co-funding from the Cellular Systems Cluster of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences) supports Professor Christine Keating and her group at Pennsylvania State University for constructing models of biological cells based on biologically relevant polymers and intracellular environments. The work aims to shed light on the possible role(s) of fundamental macromolecular chemistry in intracellular organization and biochemical microcompartmentation, exploring the possibility that these simple physical phenomena can lead to complex cellular behaviors such as differentiation and asymmetric reproduction. This is accomplished by characterizing aqueous protein and polyanion solutions as synthetic cytoplasms, and by using these new polymer systems to understand primitive routes to cell polarity and asymmetric cell division.

Potential long-term implications include the possibility of designing drugs to target critical aspects of intracellular organization, as a complement to current methods based on enzyme active sites. Additional outcomes include advances in bioseparations and in the encapsulation of large drug molecules such as proteins in vesicle delivery vehicles. Students are trained at the interface of chemistry, materials science, and biology - an area of increasing importance for the future of medical and environmental science in the U.S. Outreach at the K-12 and undergraduate levels includes: (1) hosting a K-12 teacher each summer, (2) participation of undergraduate students in the research both during the summers and during the academic year, starting as early as the freshman level, and (3) partnering with existing outreach programs organized by on-campus groups including the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) summer camps for high school girls.

Effective start/end date2/15/081/31/12


  • National Science Foundation: $595,000.00


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