Welcome to the Forth Lab!

We are a biophysics lab located in the Department of Biological Sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. We use a variety of different biophysical tools to understand how cells perform the complicated mechanical tasks to keep us healthy. For example, in the movie below, we are pulling apart two microtubules (red and purple) that are crosslinked by an essential protein called PRC1 (green) that is needed for cell division. We can measure the resistance this protein generates when pulling at different speeds to understand how rates of chromosome segregation are regulated at the biophysical level.

Cells utilize dynamic biopolymer networks to carry out mechanical tasks during diverse processes such as cell division, migration, neurite outgrowth and maintenance, and tissue development. Disruptions in the integrity of these networks have been linked to disease, and chemical compounds (e.g. taxol, the vinca alkaloids) that target biopolymers such as microtubules have been used extensively as therapeutics in the treatment of cancer. Intracellular networks are organized on the micron-scale by the collective action of ensembles of dozens of such proteins. It is currently unclear how long-range mechanical forces are transmitted or how the thousands of diverse nanometer-scale ‘building blocks’ are organized to build these micron-scale structures that do work in cells.

The Forth lab combines biophysical techniques, such as optical trapping and total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy, to decipher the mechanisms of force transmission within these networks. By reconstituting functionally active microtubule networks out of purified components and monitoring how the system behaves under biologically relevant mechanical constraints, we seek to both elucidate the underlying cellular physics and provide insights into diseases that arise when these structures fail.

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