Theses Doctoral

Understanding in vitro microtubule degradation

Bassir Kazeruni, Neda Melanie

In this Ph.D. project, we aim to understand degradation of nanomachines by studying the mechanisms that lead to the in vitro degradation of molecular shuttles, which are nanoscale active systems composed of kinesin motor proteins and cytoskeletal filaments called microtubules. In addition, we aimed to improve learning outcomes by designing a hybrid college-level engineering course combining case-based and lecture-based teaching.

The creation of complex active nanosystems integrating cytoskeletal filaments propelled by surface-adhered motor proteins often relies on microtubules’ ability to glide for up to meter-long distances. Even though theoretical considerations support this ability, we show that microtubule detachment (either spontaneous or triggered by a microtubule crossing event) is a non-negligible phenomenon that has been overlooked until now. Furthermore, we show that under our conditions (100, 500, 1000 motors per µm2 and 0.01 or 1 mM ATP), the average gliding distance before spontaneous detachment ranges from 0.3 mm to 8 mm and depends on the gliding velocity of the microtubules, the density of the kinesin motors on the glass surface, and time.

Wear, defined as the gradual removal of small amounts of material from moving parts of a machine, as well as breakage, defined as the rupture of a material, are two major causes of machine failure at the macroscale. Since these mechanisms have molecular origins, we expect them to occur at the nanoscale as well. Here, we show that microtubules propelled by surface-adhered kinesin motors are subject to wear and breakage just like macroscale machines. Furthermore, the combined effect of wear, breakage and microtubule detachment from the surface of the flow cell permit to predict how molecular shuttles degrade in vitro.

Taking a step back and looking at science in a broader sense, we can say that science does not only consist of acquiring knowledge, but also relies on one’s ability to transmit his/her knowledge. In this regard, one of the biggest challenges in education is to be efficient, that is to say to design a teaching method that would both maximize the student’s retention of information and prepare them to apply their knowledge to real-life situations. We considered this challenge as an integral part of this Ph.D. project, and we tackled it by designing a novel type of engineering course in which the students’ involvement in the learning process plays a central role. To do so, we combined, in a single engineering course, both of the approaches to learning that are used in Engineering education and in Business schools.

The final chapter of this manuscript summarizes the findings of the two projects presented here and discusses the future research that can be conducted on the basis of this thesis.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Biomedical Engineering
Thesis Advisors
Hess, Henry S.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 24, 2020