The cell is a complex autonomous machine taking in information, performing computations, and responding to the environment. To enable agile read/write capabilities, much of the molecular biochemistry that performs these computations must be transient and weak, allowing signals to be carried as a function of the concentration of numerous and coupled interactions. Traditionally, biochemical experiments can only measure strongly interacting systems that can last for long times in dilute concentrations. We have developed microscopy measurements to enable to visualization of weak, transient interactions and the resulting emergent behaviors of coupled systems. I will present excerpts from stories where many weak, transient interactions can have strong repercussions on the overall activity and can, in fact, overpower strongly interacting systems. These studies involve the microtubule cytoskeleton and the transport motor, kinesin-1. Our results reveal a fundamentally important aspect of cellular self-organization: weak, transient interacting species can tune their interaction strength directly by tuning the local concentration to act like a rheostat. The tunability of weak, transient interactions is a fundamental activity of biological systems, and our insights will ultimately enable us to learn how to engineer these systems to create biological or biomimetic devices.
Biography: Ross is the director of the new Massachusetts Center for Autonomous Materials (MassCAM) and an award-winning biophysicist studying the organization of the microtubule cytoskeleton and microtubule-based enzymes using high-resolution single molecule imaging techniques. She has a degree in Physics and has studied the microtubule cytoskeleton for over a decade. As a Cottrell Scholar, Ross has pioneered innovative teaching techniques that are being adopted around the world. Specifically, she has taught at several international short courses on microscopy including Analytical and Quantitative Microscopy (AQLM) at the Marine Biology Laboratory and the Bangalore Microscopy Course at the National Centre for Biological Science in Bangalore, India. She has also served as the President of NESM in the past. She is also an advocate for women and under-represented groups and has a blog to help others make it in academics.