That’s what Young-wook Jun’s research group can now offer researchers, he showed Saturday. Jun, an associate professor at UC San Francisco and organizer of the subgroup on nanotechnology approaches for interrogating cell signaling, discussed how his lab’s work with magnetic nanoprobes is creating new ways to observe biomolecular processes at the nano-scale.
“This is a really big development for biologists who would like to understand how the systems that they are investigating really work,” Jun explained. “Many things that previously were more difficult to do, nanoparticles enable them to happen in a much more systematic way. Getting to this point has involved collaboration between many different scientific fields, including nanoscience, chemistry, cell biology and microscopy.”
As part of their new mechanogenetic toolkit, the group has synthesized magnetoplasmonic nanoparticles – MPNs – that are similar in size to mechanoreceptors such as Notch and E-cadherin. Each is made of three parts: A magnetic core for force generation, a gold shell for imaging, and a targeting region for interacting with an individual receptor.
Once a nanoprobe engages a receptor, magnetic tweezers can be used to manipulate the receptor and cause spatial changes that can be imaged at a molecular level. Stronger forces can be applied by moving the tweezer closer to the cell’s surface, inducing activation of the receptor.
The group has demonstrated the MPNs on both Notch and E-cadherin, measuring cellular responses to spatial, chemical, temporal and mechanical inputs.