Learning from how viruses assemble

Capsid image from paper

credit: eLife

Michael Hagan, Professor of Physics, is quoted extensively in the Chemical & Engineering News article, Lessons learned from watching viruses assemble. The paper discusses how scientists are studying the ability for viruses to self-assemble. During a viral infection, infected cells manufacture the genetic material and other components of the virus. These components then self-assemble, or build themselves into complex shapes, to form new viruses capable of infecting additional cells.

Many viruses contain their genetic material within a protective shell known as a capsid. Michael Hagan is one of the scientists studying how these capsids are formed by modeling the conditions and chemical properties that allow viruses to build themselves. Once understood, researchers hope this will help in drug design and delivery.

Article: Lessons learned from watching viruses assemble, Laura Howes, Chemical & Engineering News-C&EN,  December 15, 2020.

Bulbul Chakraborty Elected AAAS Fellow

Bulbul ChakrabortyBulbul Chakraborty, the Enid and Nate Ancell Professor of Physics and head of the Division of Science, has been named a Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This honor is in recognition of Professor Chakraborty’s important theoretical contributions in the area of condensed matter physics, particularly disordered systems including frustrated magnets and granular materials.

Chakraborty has been a Brandeis faculty member since 1989. She is a condensed matter theorist who is currently focused on understanding the emergence of rigidity in solids that emerge in strongly nonequilibrium processes such as jamming or gelation.

A virtual induction ceremony for the newly elected Fellows will be held in February 2021.

Read more: BrandeisNow

Alum, Past Postdoc Receive Awards from Breakthrough Prize Foundation

Netta Engelhardt

Netta Engelhardt. photo: MIT

Lisa Piccirillo

Lisa Piccirillo. photo: Quanta Magazine.

Lisa Piccirillo, a recent Brandeis postdoc and Netta Engelhardt, a Brandeis undergraduate alumni have received two awards from the Breakthrough Prize Foundation. While the Breakthrough Prizes are intended to help scientific leaders gain financial freedom, the New Horizons award and the Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize focus on young scientists early in their careers.

The Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize is awarded to early-career women mathematicians. Lisa Piccirillo received this prize for her work in resolving the Conway Knot problem. Piccirillo was a postdoc working with Daniel Ruberman, Professor of Mathematics, from 2019 until her recent appointment as Assistant Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Netta Engelhardt, is part of a group that received the 2021 New Horizons in Physics Prize. Netta and three other scientists were awarded for their research in calculating the quantum information content of a black hole and its radiation. Engelhardt is currently an Assistant Professor of Physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was a 2011 graduate who majored in Physics. She received a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship prior to graduating from Brandeis.


Meet the Science UDRs at the Ultimate Science Navigation Event (9/23)

Ultimate Science Navigation posterAt The Ultimate Science Navigation event TOMORROW (9/23), students can collaborate with the science UDRs to learn about the different offerings in the sciences, how to navigate each major/minor, what each major/minor has to offer, all with an emphasis on exploring the intersections between different programs in the sciences. We will have UDRs representing biochemistry, biology, neuroscience, chemistry, physics, and biophysics!

Students can join in the morning on Zoom from 9:30-10AM, or for the rest of the day through the new Brandeis science community Slack workspace to discuss their questions related to the majors with the UDRs! Email Lance Babcock (lbabcock@brandeis.edu), Maggie Wang (maki@brandeis.edu) or the other science UDRs for the Zoom link and Slack workspace link.

DNA molecules tell nanoparticles how to self-assemble

Nature uses self-assembly to make a diversity of complex structures, such as biomolecules, virus shells, and cytoskeletal filaments. Today a key challenge is to translate this assembly process to artificial systems. DNA-coated nanoparticles provide a particularly promising approach to realizing this vision, since the base sequences can be designed to encode the formation of a chosen structure.

A recent publication from the Rogers Lab shows that interactions between DNA-coated particles can be encoded using DNA oligomers dispersed in solution that bind the particles together.  By changing the linker sequences in solution, Ph.D. students Janna Lowensohn and Alex Hensley showed that the same set of components can be directed to form a variety of different crystal structures. Going forward, this approach may be used to create programmable materials that can sense and respond to their environment.


DNA instructions

Paper: Self-Assembly and Crystallization of DNA-Coated Colloids via Linker-Encoded Interactions. Lowensohn J, Hensley A, Perlow-Zelman M, Rogers WB. Langmuir. 2020 Feb 18. doi: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.9b03391. (PubMed abstract)

The Rogers Lab receives a prestigious international grant to study the origin of life

HFSP logoProfessor W. Benjamin Rogers in the Department of Physics has been awarded a 2020 Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) collaborative Program Grant to create a self-propagating synthetic cell. The HFSP Program Grants aim to tackle big questions in the life sciences by supporting and bringing together researchers with different backgrounds from different countries. Professor Rogers’ team grant was one of 20 successful Program Grants that went through a year-long global selection process.

The project aims to build a stably-propagating cell from simple components. The cell will have a lipid membrane encapsulating DNA and transcription-translation machinery, and be able to grow and divide by internally synthesizing its own membrane material.

The project is significant because a stably propagating cell is a vital element of natural selection. Extant life on Earth is a consequence of natural selection acting upon earlier forms of life, shaping the lineages over time. Thus at some point early in life’s origins, a sustainably propagating cell must have emerged, allowing selective advantages to accumulate over successive generations. For daughter cells to have retained the attributes of their parent, both the genetic information and the cell contents must have been replicated with reasonable fidelity.  However, it is currently unclear how controlled cell division could have first emerged from relatively simple molecules. It is precisely this mystery that the team hopes to understand by attempting to recreate it in a test tube.

Professor Rogers’ grant is shared with Dr. Yutetsu Kuruma from Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and Professor Anna Wang from University of New South Wales in Australia.

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