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Biosensors to Calibrate Forces Acting Across Proteins

Mechanical force plays a major role in regulating various biological processes, ranging from replication of genes to strengthening the bones.

Fluorescent biosensors

Martin Schwartz, at the University of Virginia, explained that no monitoring process or methodologies have been devised till date to identify the proteins and structures that really contribute to the forces in a cell. In order to reveal this mystery, Schwartz and his colleagues have configured a biosensor for calibrating the force acting through out a protein molecule in a living cell, with sensitivity in piconewton ranges.

In order to achieve this, the scientists incorporated fluorescent tags to spring-like peptide ends that will produce luminescence when the peptides/proteins disintegrate when no force is exerted. The bio-sensing methodology was then introduced in between the tail and head area of vinculin, a protein in focal adhesions that connects the cytoskeleton to adhesion structures, for evaluating the force  the cells utilize during attachment.

By employing this biosensor, Schwartz could explain that the vinculin molecules at the edges of a drifting cell experienced greater force than the molecules at the back of the cell, where the cell discharged its adhesive proteins.

These findings are highlighted in a paper entitled ‘Measuring mechanical tension across vinculin reveals regulation of focal adhesion dynamics,’ in the journal Nature.  This innovation provides insight into a significant calibration aspect to the field of biomechanics, reviews Harold Erickson, a Faculty Member at the University.


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