How is a cell created from its molecular constituents? Individual proteins are typically only a few nanometers in size. Without a blueprint or an architect, these tiny molecular parts are able to organize themselves in a dynamic and self-correcting manner to form precise cellular structures that may be four or five orders of magnitude larger. Understanding the proper spatial and temporal arrangement of macromolecules in cells, the large-scale coordination of their functions, and the choreography of their movements requires the discovery of organizational principles and mechanisms that work at a cellular scale, over the rapid time-frames consistent with life processes.
Julie Theriot explores the mechanics and dynamics of cell self-organization and movement in a variety of cell types ranging from bacteria to fish skin cells. Her team's current work focuses on three areas: 1) the actin-based motility of intracellular bacterial pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes, 2) the whole-cell crawling of epithelial cells and leukocytes, and 3) the dynamics of cellular organization in bacteria and diatoms. Their work is highly interdisciplinary in nature, bridging cell biology, microbiology, and biophysics. By studying diverse questions in diverse biological systems, using both bottom-up approaches (biochemical reconstitution, single-molecule force measurements, mathematical modeling) and top-down approaches (genetic and pharmacological perturbations, quantitative video-based analysis of cell movement, shape, and mechanical coupling), the researchers aim to develop a broad conceptual understanding of the organizational rules that give rise to large-scale cell structure and coordinated movement.