Ethan C. Garner
Rod shaped bacteria hold their shape because they are encased within a cell wall, which is composed of strands of material wrapped around them like a spool. They grow by threading new strands in between existing ones, so that they elongate without expanding. Our group works to understand how the protein machines that do this weaving work. These machines are small compared to the bacteria, so these machines must “know” how to work together so that they make the correct shape, even though they appear to act alone.
We study this by watching the motions of the protein machines, and we see them spin around the bacteria as they insert new strands. If we block insertion with antibiotics, they freeze. These machines are regulated by small protein filaments, and we want to figure out how these filaments tell the machines when and where to start inserting. We want to know how the cell accelerates growth: does it make more machines, or do all the machines move more quickly? We also want to know how these machines all “know” to move at the same angle around the cell so that they make a rod, and if the filaments direct this coordination.