Biophysics efforts at UT are led by Jaan Mannik.
The research focus of the Mannik Lab is to develop new physics and nanotechnology based tools for studies of bacterial cells. These include new lab-on-a-chip devices that allow high throughput imaging and rapid manipulation of cell’s physical and chemical environment. Part of the microfluidic chip development is carried out at CNMS facility at ORNL. The micro/nanoengineering effort is combined with the development of sensitive imaging and image analysis techniques that allow to track individual molecules in live cells and to resolve molecular structures at sub-diffraction resolution.
In addition to the development effort, the Mannik Lab employs these novel tools to study fundamental cellular processes. The research focuses on two areas: 1) how DNA is packed, and 2) how cell division proteins self-organize in bacterial cells. Via transcriptional regulation DNA packing can be expected to control most cellular processes. Assembly of cell division apparatus is also an essential cellular process and it is target for new antibiotics. Both research areas involve new exciting physics as they deal with strongly non-equilibrium systems. These energy consuming dissipative systems show nanoscale dynamics and patterns that are yet lacking in man-made structures. The theoretical framework for these emerging properties is yet poorly understood and constitutes one of the main frontiers for contemporary physics.