Messy, Soft and Squishy: The Complex Biophysics and Mechanobiology of Living Cellular Systems

Andrew Pelling, University of Ottawa
Location: Online

Friday, 04 February 2022 02:30PM PST

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The Pelling Lab for Augmented Biology is a highly interdisciplinary research group in which there is a seamless flow between fundamental biophysics, custom instrumentation, material science, bioengineering, tissue engineering, in vivo animal trials and commercialization. In this talk, I will speak broadly about our efforts in developing an understanding of the intimate relationship between Physics and Biology. Our work, and the work of many research groups worldwide, has described a profoundly important feedback loop between physical phenomena and biological behavior and function. But the relationship between Physics and Biology extends beyond a living system‘s ability to simply “respond” to physical information. Rather, physical cues also impart evolutionary selection pressures, which have optimized the operational principles by which molecular and cellular systems function at small biological length scales. My lab focusses on how we might exploit the physical characteristics of the microenvironment to understand the mechanisms through which cellular systems sense, transmit and interpret physical cues. Such physical cues can include highly diverse pieces of information, such as the rheological properties and geometry of the microenvironment, as well as the presence of anisotropic and time-variant mechanical stresses/strains that exist within the microenvironment. We are also beginning to utilize such physical phenomena to take control and direct the organization and function of living systems in extremely artificial contexts. For example, our recent work in developing unconventional plant-based biomaterials with unique structural and viscoelastic properties which influence the growth and regeneration of living tissues. Researchers in the Pelling Lab thrive when operating in the interstitial space that exists between disciplines. Over the years our work has led to new fundamental and applied biophysical knowledge, novel devices and quantitative methodologies, commercial partnerships, and the formation of multiple healthcare and biotechnology startup companies which are translating our work into the clinic and marketplace. This talk will be structured with a broad range of scientists in mind and my goal will be to leave the audience with an appreciation for the deep connection between Physics and Biology, an understanding for the open questions in our field and why it is important to fill these gaps in knowledge.