Microtubules, essential structural elements in living cells, grow stiffer as they grow longer, an unexpected property that could lead to advances in nanomaterials development.
A team of biophysicists from The University of Texas at Austin, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in
“We found that the microtubules grow stiffer as they grow longer, a very unusual and surprising result,” said Ernst-Ludwig Florin, assistant professor with the Center for Nonlinear Dynamics at The University of Texas at
“To my knowledge, no manmade material has this property to become stiffer as it elongates,” said
Microtubules, which are about 25 nanometres in diameter, play an essential role in many cellular processes, acting as girders to support the cell. They also form tracks along which organelles, structures in cells that perform specialised functions, can move. They are also essential components of flagella and cilia, the extensions of some cells that give them movement.
The changes in the beads’ position were used to calculate the stiffness of the filaments they were attached to, through a method recently developed by the theoretical physicists on the research team.
To the surprise of the scientists, they found that the longer the filament, the more rigid it became.
The new finding about the microtubules’ properties could provide insights into using the filaments as models for the development of nanomaterials.