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Biological systems operate away from equilibrium but the applications of non-equilibrium dynamics in our current understanding of biology remain limited. The lab of Min Wu is fascinated by oscillations and travelling waves that take place on or near the cell cortex. Much of the current attempts to deconstruct cell biological systems is through dissecting molecules and their interactions, an approach only effective if the function is encoded at the level of individual genes. Due to the rarity of genes linked to fixed functionalities, it has been long recognized that a better proxy would be molecular networks and the interactions of these networks. Oscillations and waves are powerful readouts for understanding both the components and the topology of the biological networks. Quantitative parameters of these patterns also help to define dynamical states of the cell and transition between states. Lastly, it is tempting to speculate that dynamic patterns could encode spatiotemporal information.

  • Our main goal in the single-cell pattern formation problem is to convert subcellular pattern formation from a descriptive topic to more quantitative and mechanistic ones. To this end, we aim to define these fascinating phenomena with quantitative parameters (oscillation frequency, duration, amplitude, propagation speed, nucleation, geometry) and dissect each one of them.

  • Mesoscale patterns contain rich information that could potentially bridge the gap between molecular scale dynamics and cellular level decision- making processes. In particular, we are keen in testing the hypothesis that the feedback regulations underlying cortical pattern formation could shed light on the fundamental but little known problem of cell growth and cell size regulation.

  • Whether mammalian cells have size checkpoint in order to couple cell growth and cell cycle progression is a long-standing controversial question. The irregular shapes of mammalian cells and the difficulty in measuring cell size accurately have hampered study of mammanlian cell size regulation. Inspired by the earlier work of Raymond Rappaport where he studied sand dollar egg division in cylindrical channels, we developed a PDMS channel system to impose constraints in 3D.