Mechanobiology of Protein and Cells

In October 2013, the Biophysical Society co-sponsored a thematic meeting on the mechanobiology of proteins and cells. The meeting was held at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Salisbury Cove, Maine, in a fabulous setting, amid rustic accomodations-upon arrival, the participants had to search for their cabin in the dark, with flashlights provided by the Society to light the way. The scenery as the sun rose above the water the next morning made the nighttime trek worth it!

The meeting provided a forum for analysis and discussion of the mechanics of cells and cellular components by biophysicists, biochemists, physiologists, and theoreticians. The last decade has seen an explosion of both data and theory on the dynamics and mechanics of biomolecular components. The latest research to manipulate and observe molecules at the single molecule level, even in vivo, and do real time observations on catalysis and traffic inside were presented. The in vitro reconstruction of cell division components and high resolution imaging of synthetic cell division was one of the spectacular findings featured at the meeting. Also, numerous new insights into the mechanics of ion channels and solute transporters were presented. The combination of functional and structural studies with theory has resulted in realistic models on the workings of many of the important machineries of life. In several of the lectures, it was demonstrated that we are beginning to understand how proteins can be gated mechanically and how mechanic signals are transduced from one component to another.

Many of the lectures addressed one or more of the following questions: How are changes in osmotic pressure and other mechanical stimuli sensed and processed by living cells? How do macromoleculewater-solute interactions modulate macromolecular structure, assembly and function? How can physicochemical factors like macromolecular crowding and membrane tension be determined? What are the molecular mechanisms of osmoregulatory transporters and mechanosensitive channels. How does a cell integrate the various regulatory mechanisms and maintain a state of homeostasis, far from equilibrium?

There were lively discussions on science, not only after the lectures but also during the poster sessions and hikes in the national park. It was highly appreciated that researchers from different disciplines were brought together who would not regularly meet otherwise, even though they share a common passion for mechanobiology. In fact, the mechanics of cellular components is generally spread out over a wide range of meetings from biology to physics, and many researchers met for the first time. The interaction of young and senior researchers and the mutual learning aspect was a highlight of the meeting. The closing of the national government during the meeting raised additional non-scientific discussion, in particular after some drinks, around midnight.

The meeting’s organizing committee members included Bert Poolman, University of Groningen, The Netherlands, and Paul Blount, University of Texas Southwestern, with the local organizer Kevin Strange and his staff from Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.

Bert Poolman, Meeting Chair