Mechanical forces in biology – On the physics of cells, gels and tissues

Stefan Münster, PhD - Max-Planck-Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Dresden, Germany
Leuchs-Russell Auditorium, A.1.500, Staudtstraße 2
Location details


Many biological processes depend on the ability of cells to exert physical forces: during embryogenesis, organ development, wound healing or the metastasis of cancer, cells transmit forces onto their environment in order to migrate or shape the form of tissues.  The interplay between generated forces and the mechanical properties of the cells as well as those of the extracellular environment determines the extent of the resulting actions. In this talk, I will present my research into measuring the physical forces generated by cells and tissues as well as quantifying the structural and mechanical properties of the extracellular environment. The first part will give an overview of our advances to characterize the structural and mechanical properties of ECM matrices, such as collagen and fibrin, and how this knowledge can be applied to quantitatively determine the forces exerted by cancer cells migrating through such three-dimensional matrices. In the second part, I will present our recent discovery of a previously unknown force acting during gastrulation of insects; by quantitative imaging with light-sheet microscopy and physical modelling we found that the early blastoderm tissue exerts an additional force onto the extracellular shell surrounding the developing embryo by attaching to it. In the red flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum) as well as the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) this tissue attachment is mediated by an integrin-dependent process and is required for morphogenetic tissue flows to proceed normally. I will discuss the impact of this finding on the physical picture of tissue mechanics and how this may relate to wound healing and cancer metastasis.

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