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Science@Cal Lecture Series: March 2014


On Saturday, March 15 our talk will be given by Dr. Troy Lionberger and will be entitled “What we can learn from reverse engineering biological, molecular machines.”

LOCATION: 159 Mulford Hall, UC Berkeley.

TIME: 11am-12pm.

Mechanical engineers often try to understand how changing a machine’s design affects its performance. After a hundred years of designing internal combustion engines, for example, we now have the ability to optimize parameters such as fuel efficiency and horsepower. Far removed from the macroscopic world with which we are all familiar lies a new frontier of engineering challenges: molecular motors made of soft, compliant polymers that operate in nanoscale environments. The aim of this talk is to convince you that the enzymes that are essential for life to exist are best described as nanomachines. Like any machine, enzymes function in ways that are intimately tied to their physical design.

The challenge now facing molecular biologists is to understand how an enzyme’s design is related to how it operates. Addressing this complex problem requires that we first find ways to accurately characterize the behavior of a molecular motor (for example, how fast it moves, how much force it generates, etc.). I will introduce several examples of specialized techniques that make it possible to monitor the real-time motion of single motor proteins with nanometer precision. The single molecule techniques have recently emerged as powerful tools that are providing critical insights into how molecular motors function inside of cells and opening the door to understanding the biological designs that govern their function.


Troy Lionberger is a postdoctoral research associate with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at U.C. Berkeley. He works with Professor Carlos Bustamante to develop single molecule techniques that are used to address questions relating to how genes are turned on and off inside of cells. His primary interest is to understand a fundamental problem that lies at the heart of modern biology: How does a molecular motor known as RNA polymerase transcribe the genetic sequence of DNA into RNA? Dr. Lionberger attended the University of Michigan, earning his Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology and a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering. Prior to that, he was an undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley, where he earned degrees in Bioengineering and Molecular and Cell Biology. He is an advocate of science education outreach and volunteers as an instructor at San Quentin State Prison, where he teaches inmates college-level physics, chemistry, and math.

This free public talk is presented as part of the monthly “Science@Cal Lecture Series”

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Webcast: Webcast. Events are recorded and typically made available a few days after the event.