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      Greetings! I am a 6th year graduate student in the Center for Bits and Atoms and the Department of Physics at MIT. I am interested in how nonliving molecules work together to make living systems capable of metabolism, growth, replication, homeostasis, and adaptation. In particular, we are interested in "top-down" and "bottom-up" approaches to synthetic cells. We hope to combine the most complex nonliving molecules, such as cytoplasm and chromosomes, to make the least complex living systems.
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      From the "top-down" we are investigating a <a href="http://cba.mit.edu/docs/papers/16.04.minimal.pdf">bacterium with a minimal genome</a>, in collaboration with John Glass of the <a href="http://www.jcvi.org/cms/research/groups/synthetic-biology-bioenergy/">J. Craig Venter Institute</a> and Elizabeth Strychalski of the <a href="https://www.nist.gov/mml/bbd/microbial-metrology">National Institute of Standards and Technology</a>. For context, humans contain about 20000 genes, the bacterium <i>Escherichia coli</i> contains about 4000 genes, and the minimal cell contains just 473 genes. To our surprise, 149 of them do not have a known function, even though all are essential and the cell would die without any one of them. Therefore, we now know which genes a minimal cell contains, but we do not understand how the genes work. By imaging the growth and replication of single cells in microfluidic devices, we are now investigating <i>how</i> the minimal cell lives.
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        From the "bottom-up" we are reconstituting cellular phenomena in eukaryotic cytoplasmic extract from frog eggs, with <a href="https://mitchison.hms.harvard.edu/">Timothy Mitchison</a> and <a href="http://www.fakhrilab.com/">Nikta Fakhri</a>. For example, we are investigating geometrical and mechanical aspects of intracellular scaffolds such as microtubules, actin, and endoplasmic reticulum. I enjoy thinking about these cytoskeletal scaffolds as “LEGO soup,” composed of many different molecules that are constantly using energy to self-organize, assembling and disassembling to make different structures that can do different jobs at different times.
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