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Creators/Authors contains: "Needleman, Daniel J."

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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2025
  2. Living systems are intrinsically nonequilibrium: They use metabolically derived chemical energy to power their emergent dynamics and self-organization. A crucial driver of these dynamics is the cellular cytoskeleton, a defining example of an active material where the energy injected by molecular motors cascades across length scales, allowing the material to break the constraints of thermodynamic equilibrium and display emergent nonequilibrium dynamics only possible due to the constant influx of energy. Notwithstanding recent experimental advances in the use of local probes to quantify entropy production and the breaking of detailed balance, little is known about the energetics of active materials or how energy propagates from the molecular to emergent length scales. Here, we use a recently developed picowatt calorimeter to experimentally measure the energetics of an active microtubule gel that displays emergent large-scale flows. We find that only approximately one-billionth of the system’s total energy consumption contributes to these emergent flows. We develop a chemical kinetics model that quantitatively captures how the system’s total thermal dissipation varies with ATP and microtubule concentrations but that breaks down at high motor concentration, signaling an interference between motors. Finally, we estimate how energy losses accumulate across scales. Taken together, these results highlight energetic efficiency as a key consideration for the engineering of active materials and are a powerful step toward developing a nonequilibrium thermodynamics of living systems.

     
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  3. Mitochondrial metabolism is of central importance to diverse aspects of cell and developmental biology. Defects in mitochondria are associated with many diseases, including cancer, neuropathology, and infertility. Our understanding of mitochondrial metabolism in situ and dysfunction in diseases are limited by the lack of techniques to measure mitochondrial metabolic fluxes with sufficient spatiotemporal resolution. Herein, we developed a new method to infer mitochondrial metabolic fluxes in living cells with subcellular resolution from fluorescence lifetime imaging of NADH. This result is based on the use of a generic coarse-grained NADH redox model. We tested the model in mouse oocytes and human tissue culture cells subject to a wide variety of perturbations by comparing predicted fluxes through the electron transport chain (ETC) to direct measurements of oxygen consumption rate. Interpreting the fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy measurements of NADH using this model, we discovered a homeostasis of ETC flux in mouse oocytes: perturbations of nutrient supply and energy demand of the cell do not change ETC flux despite significantly impacting NADH metabolic state. Furthermore, we observed a subcellular spatial gradient of ETC flux in mouse oocytes and found that this gradient is primarily a result of a spatially heterogeneous mitochondrial proton leak. We concluded from these observations that ETC flux in mouse oocytes is not controlled by energy demand or supply, but by the intrinsic rates of mitochondrial respiration. 
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  4. Chromosome segregation—the partitioning of genetic material into two daughter cells—is one of the most crucial processes in cell division. In all Eukaryotes, chromosome segregation is driven by the spindle, a microtubule-based, self-organizing subcellular structure. Extensive research performed over the past 150 years has identified numerous commonalities and contrasts between spindles in different systems. In this review, we use simple coarse-grained models to organize and integrate previous studies of chromosome segregation. We discuss sites of force generation in spindles and fundamental mechanical principles that any understanding of chromosome segregation must be based upon. We argue that conserved sites of force generation may interact differently in different spindles, leading to distinct mechanical mechanisms of chromosome segregation. We suggest experiments to determine which mechanical mechanism is operative in a particular spindle under study. Finally, we propose that combining biophysical experiments, coarse-grained theories, and evolutionary genetics will be a productive approach to enhance our understanding of chromosome segregation in the future. 
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  5. Abstract

    Living matter moves, deforms, and organizes itself. In cells this is made possible by networks of polymer filaments and crosslinking molecules that connect filaments to each other and that act as motors to do mechanical work on the network. For the case of highly cross-linked filament networks, we discuss how the material properties of assemblies emerge from the forces exerted by microscopic agents. First, we introduce a phenomenological model that characterizes the forces that crosslink populations exert between filaments. Second, we derive a theory that predicts the material properties of highly crosslinked filament networks, given the crosslinks present. Third, we discuss which properties of crosslinks set the material properties and behavior of highly crosslinked cytoskeletal networks. The work presented here, will enable the better understanding of cytoskeletal mechanics and its molecular underpinnings. This theory is also a first step toward a theory of how molecular perturbations impact cytoskeletal organization, and provides a framework for designing cytoskeletal networks with desirable properties in the lab.

     
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  6. null (Ed.)
    The spindle shows remarkable diversity, and changes in an integrated fashion, as cells vary over evolution. Here, we provide a mechanistic explanation for variations in the first mitotic spindle in nematodes. We used a combination of quantitative genetics and biophysics to rule out broad classes of models of the regulation of spindle length and dynamics, and to establish the importance of a balance of cortical pulling forces acting in different directions. These experiments led us to construct a model of cortical pulling forces in which the stoichiometric interactions of microtubules and force generators (each force generator can bind only one microtubule), is key to explaining the dynamics of spindle positioning and elongation, and spindle final length and scaling with cell size. This model accounts for variations in all the spindle traits we studied here, both within species and across nematode species spanning over 100 million years of evolution. 
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  7. Cells are the basic units of all living matter which harness the flow of energy to drive the processes of life. While the biochemical networks involved in energy transduction are well-characterized, the energetic costs and constraints for specific cellular processes remain largely unknown. In particular, what are the energy budgets of cells? What are the constraints and limits energy flows impose on cellular processes? Do cells operate near these limits, and if so how do energetic constraints impact cellular functions? Physics has provided many tools to study nonequilibrium systems and to define physical limits, but applying these tools to cell biology remains a challenge. Physical bioenergetics, which resides at the interface of nonequilibrium physics, energy metabolism, and cell biology, seeks to understand how much energy cells are using, how they partition this energy between different cellular processes, and the associated energetic constraints. Here we review recent advances and discuss open questions and challenges in physical bioenergetics.

     
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  8. Understanding the coordination of cell-division timing is one of the outstanding questions in the field of developmental biology. One active control parameter of the cell-cycle duration is temperature, as it can accelerate or decelerate the rate of biochemical reactions. However, controlled experiments at the cellular scale are challenging, due to the limited availability of biocompatible temperature sensors, as well as the lack of practical methods to systematically control local temperatures and cellular dynamics. Here, we demonstrate a method to probe and control the cell-division timing inCaenorhabditis elegansembryos using a combination of local laser heating and nanoscale thermometry. Local infrared laser illumination produces a temperature gradient across the embryo, which is precisely measured by in vivo nanoscale thermometry using quantum defects in nanodiamonds. These techniques enable selective, controlled acceleration of the cell divisions, even enabling an inversion of division order at the two-cell stage. Our data suggest that the cell-cycle timing asynchrony of the early embryonic development inC. elegansis determined independently by individual cells rather than via cell-to-cell communication. Our method can be used to control the development of multicellular organisms and to provide insights into the regulation of cell-division timings as a consequence of local perturbations.

     
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