Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Using Light to Control Cell Clustering

New Study Advances Leading-Edge Field of Optogenetics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and UC Berkeley

A new study from engineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of California, Berkeley, pairs light and genetics to give researchers a powerful new tool for manipulating cells. Results of the study, published in the journal Nature Methods, show how blue light can be used as a switch to prompt targeted proteins to accumulate into large clusters.

This process of clustering, or oligomerization, is commonly employed by nature to turn on or turn off specific signaling pathways used in cells’ complex system of communications. The new study details how this process can be replicated with great precision, giving researchers new capabilities to control and influence the process of oligomerization and cell signaling.

Ravi Kane, the P.K. Lashmet Professor in the Howard P. Isermann Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and faculty member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Rensselaer, co-led the study with Professor David Schaffer of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the UC Berkeley. This study was made possible with support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Science.

“Our study shows a new use for using energy, in this case light, as a tool to understand and control cellular function. In this study, we demonstrated a new method for turning specific cell signaling pathways on and off with spatial and temporal precision, and use this to help better understand the dynamics of the pathway. At the same time, our technique can be used to control certain cell functions,” Kane and Schaffer said.

Looking ahead, Kane said, it is possible the new process may also one day be able to help optimize cellular function and produce products of interest to energy production, such as biofuels.

Results of the study, titled “Optogenetic protein clustering and signaling activation in mammalian cells,” were published online last week by Nature Methods and will appear in a future print edition of the journal. The study may be viewed online at:

Light is an attractive tool to manipulate oligomerization, Kane said, because of three properties: most biological cells do not normally react or respond to light; light is easy to make; and researchers can easily control light properties including its color and intensity. In this new study, the research team shined blue light onto cells containing a bioengineered protein, and by doing so they were able to activate cell signaling more effectively than they could using the natural ligand Wnt3a. This protein clustering induced by shining light was reversible—upon removing the blue light, the cluster broke up within a few minutes. The researchers also demonstrated how to use this modular technique to cluster proteins that control cell shape.

“The new process can be applied to many different types of proteins, signaling pathways, and cells,” said study co-author Lukasz Bugaj, graduate student at UC Berkeley. The research team plans to continue investigating new ways of controlling different aspects of cells and cellular function with light.

Along with Kane, Schaffer, and Bugaj, co-authors of the paper are UC Berkeley graduate student Colin Mesuda and research assistant Atri Choksi.

For more information on Kane and his research at Rensselaer, visit:

• Rensselaer Researchers Develop Coating That Safely Kills MRSA on Contact
• Q&A: 3° with Ravi Kane
• Using Carbon Nanotubes To Seek and Destroy Anthrax Toxin and Other Harmful Proteins

• Seaweed Transformed Into Stem Cell Technology
• Kane Named P.K. Lashmet Professor at Rensselaer
• Kane Wins 2009 ACS Young Investigator Award
• Kane Wins AIChE Young Investigator Award
Michael Mullaney
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, NY
Visit the Rensselaer research and discovery blog:
Follow us on Twitter:

Michael Mullaney | Newswise
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht The gene of autumn colours
27.10.2016 | Hokkaido University

nachricht Polymer scaffolds build a better pill to swallow
27.10.2016 | The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

The gene of autumn colours

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Polymer scaffolds build a better pill to swallow

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>