Title: Collagen: a fascinating responsive material building block from Nature
Abstract: Multicellular life is scaffolded by structures that maintain cells in the desired locations and organizations. Conventionally these scaffolds are viewed as rigid, unchanging supports laid down during development and unaltered except by injury or disease. Recent scientific advances are revealing instead that these extracellular scaffolds are highly dynamic, responsive to changes in their local microenvironment and communicating these changes to the cells they support, which in turn modify these scaffolds to adapt to their changed environment. The collagen family of proteins has been selected via evolution as the preferred building block of these extracellular structures. In this talk, I will introduce some of the fascinating physical properties of the unique triple-helix structure of collagen, and will highlight the results of our single-molecule investigations into its mechanical properties. Our work is revealing clues as to how collagen’s triple helix balances structural stability with responsiveness to applied force and chemical environment.