Different concentrations of solute added and subsequent rates of freezing.

Student Spotlight on Kieran Loehr ’20: Researching Optimal Cooling Methods

While cryogenics is often depicted as a scientifically fictitious, Hollywood creation, Kieran Loehr ’20 and peer researchers in the lab of Prof. Robert Thorne, physics, are collaborating to make bio preservation an easy and affordable process. According to Loehr, freezing humans to be resuscitated in 100 years is not a foreseeable feat, but improving freezing techniques for commercial use, like sperm and egg cryopreservation and biomaterial storage for research purposes, is the lab’s primary goal. “Tissues, which are composed of membrane bound cells, are particularly delicate and the harsh process of freezing can cause them to rupture and incur damage,” Loehr said. This happens when the molecules of a slowly cooling liquid rearrange into rigid, crystalline structures and disrupt cell membranes. However, according to Loehr, “if the rate at which the freezing process takes place is increased to 600,000 kelvin/sec, biological damage can be avoided due to glass formation.” Glass is a term used to describe a frozen solid composed of molecules that are arranged as if in liquid state.

Image of skeletal muscle fibers that have been generated in vitro using a novel 3-D encapsulation method. Magenta=myosin heavy chain; Turquoise=actin; Green=Lamin B1; Red=DNA

New Frontier in Nucleus Capabilities

From middle school biology we were always taught that the nucleus is the “control center” of the cell, similar to how the brain is the control center of our own bodies. At first glance this makes a lot of sense, considering the nucleus contains DNA — the genetic code of life — and a good amount of the machinery that is required to transcribe this code into the proteins that make up our being. Despite this seemingly intuitive role of the nucleus, a recent study conducted by the Prof. Jan Lammerding, biomedical engineering, and post-doctoral fellow Tyler Kirby, suggests the nucleus may also act as a “mechano-sensor” in the cell. A mechano-sensor is a component of the cell that responds to physical stimuli in the environment of the cell, such as touch, charge, or temperature. Previously the role of mechano-sensor was credited entirely to cell membrane proteins.

WHAT’S UP DOC? | Small Fish Make a Big Difference

Have you ever thought about the functions of the thousands of genes inside our bodies? Scientists have been excited to answer this question ever since the Human Genome Project identified more than 20,000 genes, most of which were of unknown function. The past decade has witnessed a great explosion of knowledge about gene function and regulation. Most of this knowledge has come from studying model organisms, ranging from single-celled yeast to multi-whiskered mice. Since the fundamental biological processes are amazingly conserved across different species, studies from model organisms have taught us a lot about how our own bodies work and have led us to develop methods to treat diseases.