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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The shape and physical properties of cells, particularly the rigidity of their internal framing, or "cytoskeleton," are intimately tied to their ability to survive. Bacterial cells, for instance, spend a great deal of their energy synthesizing molecules that make up their stiff cell walls, helping them grow quickly during an infection inside the hostile environment of a host. Many of the existing antibiotic drugs target these cell wall components, and they kill bacteria by weakening their cell walls, causing them to burst. With the rise in infections with multiple antibiotic resistance, scientists would like find more ways to weaken cells, but one of the challenges is that measuring a cell's stiffness and other physical properties is not an easy matter.
Now K.C. Huang of Stanford University and Doug Weibel of the University of Wisconsin at Madison have developed an easily implemented, inexpensive, quantitative method for measuring the strength and rigidity of growing cells by placing them in gels of different stiffness and watching them grow against the gel. They call their method the Cell Length Assay of Mechanical Properties or "CLAMP," and in principle it should allow researchers to rapidly test the ability of various chemicals to alter the strength of a wide variety of bacterial strains. Such studies may reveal new targets inside the cell for antibacterial drugs that kill bacteria by weakening their protective shell.
The American Physical Society is the leading professional organization of physicists, representing more than 48,000 physicists in academia and industry in the United States and internationally. APS has offices in College Park, MD (Headquarters), Ridge, NY, and Washington, D.C.
Headquartered in College Park, MD, the American Institute of Physics is a not-for-profit membership corporation chartered in New York State in 1931 for the purpose of promoting the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics and its application to human welfare.