Recent work in the de Pablo group, published in Nature Communciations, presents a theoretical analysis of the dynamics of nematic liquid crystals that are confined onto a spherical shell, effectively mimicking cellular motion and shedding light into how exactly chemical energy might be transformed into mechanical work.
Cytoskeletal polymers, such as microtubules and F-actin, are important for many physiological processes, such as subcellular transport, cell morphogenesis, and motion. These microscopic processes, which are carried out in many living systems, utilize chemical energy to carry out mechanical work. Researchers in the de Pablo group have demonstrated that when a thin film suspension of microtubules and their motor protein, kinesins, are confined onto a spherical vesicle surface, the topological defects that define the structure of the material begin to move in a periodic fashion. To understand this intriguing phenomenon, Rui Zhang and Juan de Pablo adopted a modeling approach that incorporates the molecular structure of the liquid crystalline material and the hydrodynamic interactions that arise between molecules. The work is important in advancing the understanding of the cell and has important implications for the creation of 1) novel microfluidic devices that rely on active liquids to generate spontaneous flows, which could be used to transport cargo, or 2) novel photonic devices where moving defects are used to oscillate light-interacting particles in a periodic manner.