The Meiners Lab studies the mechanics of biological systems. Our primary emphasis is on the dynamical properties of DNA and DNA-protein complexes in vitro and in vivo. We are interested in understanding the physical principles that allow DNA to move and form larger assemblies with proteins to fulfill its biological function inside living cells.
We ask questions such as whether the motion of DNA in living cells is primarily passive Brownian motion, or actively driven by molecular motors. We are also interested in the mechanics of genetic switches, and whether genes can be turned on through mechanical tension in the genomic DNA. To answer these questions, we are using a mix of optics-based biophysical techniques, such as optical tweezers or fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, that we further develop and modify for our purposes. In addition, we use extensive computer simulations to complement and understand our experimental results.
More recently, we have also become interested in tissue mechanics, and how mechanical forces cause damage. A new project is looking at how the formation of gas bubbles can damage spinal cord tissue – a question that arises in the context of diving accidents that result in spinal cord decompression sickness. This work may also have a broader impact on our understanding of the mechanics of traumatic spinal cord injuries.