Riina Tehver is into motors – but not the kind that go vroom-vroom. She’s a biophysicist who’s looking at some of the protein motors that work inside organic cells to transport necessary organelles and chemicals to different parts of the body.
Tehver recently was awarded a $35,000 Cottrell College Science Award to explore these protein motors. She has three students working with her in Olin Science Hall this summer: Nick Bachsoliani ’13, from Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia; Drew McCallister ’12, from Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Paul Yang ’14, from Chengdu in central China.
Under her guidance, they are creating mathematical models about two cellular proteins, myosin V and myosin VI, and testing them against the proteins’ actual behaviors.
Put your science caps on, folks; here’s how it works: Living cells have molecular motors that perform lots of important tasks like muscle contraction, cellular transport, or protein assembly. These protein motors are affected by both internal stimuli and external forces.
Tehver is studying myosin V and myosin VI and, she says, “how these internal and external forces affect their dynamics.” She and her students are building computational models that predict certain actions in response these forces and then comparing them to real-life data, looking for the best fit.
Myosins function as carriers of organelles and chemicals to the places in the body that need them and provide structural support within cells. If the motors don’t work, health issues can arise. Defects in myosin V and myosin VI have been linked to neurological disorders and deafness.
This is Tehver’s first year at Denison, and her second studying these effects. The assistant professor in physics expects to work on protein motor functions for the foreseeable future. “I hope to clear up these questions in the near term,” she says, “but I expect this research will generate a lot more questions to look at over a longer period.”