Biophysics Seminar - Michael Levin, Tufts - “Endogenous voltage gradients among non-neural tissues encode large-scale patterning cues in embryogenes

Mar 23, 2015, 12:00 pm1:00 pm
Joseph Henry Room


Event Description
The big challenge in modern biology is to understand and control the mechanisms by which living organisms organize, maintain, remodel, and restore their shape. Some creatures are able to regenerate whole limbs or eyes, and many examples of adaptive pattern regulation tell us that understanding cell differentiation is not enough; large-scale shape change is a profound problem, not well-addressed by existing molecular models. Alongside the chemical gradients and genetic networks that are extensively studied, there functions a powerful and little-understood natural system of bioelectrical communication. Voltage-based signals among all cells (not just nerve and muscle) mediate the coordination of cell behavior during morphogenesis and repair. The Levin Lab created the molecular tools needed to allow the mechanistic investigation of this non-genetic layer of morphogenetic control. In this talk, I will describe what we have learned about how bioelectric signaling regulates anatomical structure during embryonic development, regeneration, and cancer. By specifically modulating these gradients (using molecular-genetic perturbation of ion channel activity, not application of external fields), we have gained the ability to make remarkable coherent changes in living animals’ growth and form. The mechanistic application of these findings have important and direct implications for biomedicine. However, fundamental questions remain, and there is great need for deep theory and insights from related fields, like physics and the information sciences. Our goal is to understand how the dynamics of bioelectric networks implement top-down control and pattern optimization of large-scale shape. In this talk, I will describe the molecular mechanisms involved, and suggest some out-of-the-box hypotheses about conceptual approaches that may be needed to truly crack the bioelectric code.
Lunch @ 11:45, talk @ 12pm.