New single molecule techniques for understanding the physics of living systems

Academic Lead – Jamie Hobbs  (Sheffield)

“Understanding the Physics of Life” has been identified as a “Grand Challenge” by EPSRC. To meet this challenge we need to develop new physical approaches to answer biological questions and new ways for working collaboratively across the physics-life science interface to maximise the impact of these approaches. The Network is focussed on “New single molecule techniques for understanding the physics of living systems”. This project brings together for the first time three leaders in different single molecule methods – Leake (York Physics), single molecule optics in living systems; Dougan (Leeds), single molecule force measurement; and Hobbs (Sheffield) atomic force microscopy imaging of single molecules. Each of the applicants is currently at the forefront of the development and application of their different technologies. However, combining the different methods is key if we are to really understand the physical basis of biological systems, using optics to monitor processes at a molecular level in living cells, force measurements to probe what is driving molecule-molecule interactions, and sub-molecular resolution imaging to unravel structure and its relationship to function. It is this holistic approach which will provide a route into a deeper physical understanding of life. By developing different single molecule techniques in parallel the students will not only be able to swap approaches between traditionally separate methods, they will also be able to apply the complementary techniques to tackle the specific biophysical question that they aim to answer. There are three different but related biophysical questions to address, so as to ensure that the techniques developed are widely applicable while allowing the students to relate closely across the network.

The interface between physical and life sciences is an area in which the White Rose Universities have exceptional and growing strength. With the recent identification of the ‘Physics of Life’ as a grand challenge by EPSRC, there is a need for the physics side of this collaborative exercise to expand so as to gain and maintain our competitive advantage. Truly three-way partnerships across the three universities are exceptionally rare in this area, and building a network of this sort will leave us well placed for future opportunities.

Network Projects

Development of direct single molecule imaging with torsional tapping atomic force microscopy.

Principal Supervisor Jamie Hobbs –  (Sheffield)

Advanced single-molecule biological physics tools to understand cellular complexity during division and DNA replication

Principal Supervisor- Mark Leake (York)

Title to be confirmed

Principal Supervisor – Lorna Dougan (Leeds)