Complexity in signaling networks is often derived from co-opting one set of molecules for multiple operations. Understanding how cells achieve such sophisticated processing using a finite set of molecules within a confined space –what we call the “signaling paradox”- is critical to biology and engineering as well as the emerging field of synthetic biology. We have recently developed a series of chemical-molecular tools that allow for inducible, quick-onset and specific perturbation of various signaling molecules. Using this novel technique in conjunction with fluorescence imaging, microfabricated devices, quantitative analysis and computational modeling, we are dissecting intricate signaling networks. In particular, we investigate positive-feedback mechanisms underlying the initiation of neutrophil chemotaxis (known as symmetry breaking), as well as spatio-temporally compartmentalized signaling of Ras and membrane lipids such as phosphoinositides. In parallel, we also try to understand how cell morphology affects biochemical pathways inside cells. Ultimately, we will generate completely orthogonal machinery in cells to achieve existing, as well as novel, cellular functions. Our synthetic, multidisciplinary approach will elucidate the signaling paradox created by nature.
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