The cytoskeleton is a mechano-chemical network that serves as fruitful experimental target to understand the fundamental principles of cellular self-organization and work. Specifically, we study how the microtubule cytoskeleton organizes the interior of living cells. Cells completely remodel their interior structures during cell division and differentiation - both vital processes for organismal development, maturation, and maintenance. The microtubule cytoskeleton has two roles in this process: first the microtubule network itself is a mechanical structure that supports the shape and organization within cells, second microtubules are the tracks used for long-distance intracellular transport by molecular motor proteins that move organelles and protein cargos in the cell.
Correct microtubule organization is essential to many cellular processes: cell division, neuronal cell development, differentiation, and maintenance, plant cell cellulose deposition, and ciliary beating in the lungs, kidneys, and intestines. Failure to create the correct microtubule network in these processes results in cancer and birth defects, brain abnormalities and neuromuscular diseases, fragile plants, tumors and cell death. We use bottom-up reconstitution techniques and cutting-edge super-resolution single molecule imaging to systematically dissect the underlying physical principles governing microtubule organization to address this large number of essential cellular processes.