Fat Is Beautiful

Though reminiscent of the tie-dyed T-shirts on Telegraph Avenue, patterns like this arise from a very different source — interactions among proteins and fats (lipids), biological molecules found in all living cells. Raghuveer Parthasarathy, a Miller Postdoctoral Fellow in Jay Groves’s lab in the Department of Chemistry, investigates the relationship between proteins and cell membranes, which are double-layered lipid structures richly studded with proteins, sugars, and other molecules. When two cells come together — as in some types of immune responses — their membranes interact to form a junction. To better understand these interactions, Parthasarathy creates an artificial cell-cell junction out of two lipid bilayers sandwiched together. Labeled proteins within one of the layers get pushed into dense zones radiating out from the point of contact, which can then be photographed. The pattern formation is quick and stable, taking only about 100 milliseconds and lasting for tens of minutes. Beyond looking cool, these patterns may help shed light on the complex protein reorganizations that occur when real cells come together.

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