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Join Professor John T. Ngo from Boston University for a Force Talk entitled "Synthetic Mechanobiology: probing and programming how cells sense and transmit force-based cues".


Cells interpret mechanical stimuli from their environments and neighbors, but the ability to engineer customized mechanosensing capabilities has remained a synthetic and mechanobiology challenge. Here we introduce tension-tuned synthetic Notch (SynNotch) receptors to convert extracellular and intercellular forces into specifiable gene expression changes. By elevating the tension requirements of SynNotch activation, in combination with structure-guided mutagenesis, we designed a set of receptors with mechanical sensitivities spanning the physiologically relevant picoNewton range. Cells expressing these receptors can distinguish between varying tensile forces and respond by enacting customisable transcriptional programs. We applied these tools to design a decision-making circuit, through which fibroblasts differentiate into myoblasts upon stimulation with distinct tension magnitudes. We also characterise cell-generated forces transmitted between cells during Notch signaling and we introduce a new strategy for gauging the unbinding forces of ECM-bound proteins. Overall, this work provides insight into how mechanically induced changes in protein structure can be used to transduce physical forces into biochemical signals. The system should facilitate the further programming and dissection of force-related phenomena in biological systems.


Professor John T. Ngo is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Boston University. Prior to BU, he trained as a graduate student with David Tirrell at Caltech, and was a post-doctoral fellow with Roger Tsien at UC San Diego between 2012-2015. His research is focused on molecular tool development, with the goal of bridging technology gaps in biology and bioengineering. To accomplish this goal, his lab combines protein engineering, chemical synthesis, and synthetic biology to probe, manipulate, and re-program the mechanisms by which cells communicate with one another and their surroundings.

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At this event

Sergi  Garcia-Manyes

Professor of Biophysics