Imaging-based approaches for investigating microbes and membranes

Our group explores the physical properties of biological systems, especially bacterial communities and lipid membranes, with approaches based on imaging and image analysis. An REU project will focus on one of the following: (i) Using three-dimensional microscopy, our lab characterizes the structure and dynamics of microbial communities inside the intestines of live animals — the gut microbiome. An REU student in our lab would characterize with experiments and computational image analysis the swimming behavior of microbes, both in and out of the gut. (ii) A key challenge for understanding the gut microbiome is to infer interactions between microbes from data on population dynamics. An REU student would conduct experiments and perform computer simulations to determine what can, and can’t, be learned about interacting microbial systems. (ii) Cellular membranes are amazing materials — flexible, two-dimensional fluids. Our lab has developed new techniques to measure membrane viscosity and is using these to quantify the fluid dynamics of membranes subject to a variety of physical, chemical, and biological perturbations. An REU student in our lab would work on performing these experiments, using microscopy and computational image analysis to characterize an important class of biomaterials.