I was delighted to hear that this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Südhof for uncovering the molecular machineries that govern cargo trafficking in cells. Trafficking is a fascinating and hugely important topic, and it’s one that has influenced my own work as well. For a few years now, we’ve been looking at the biophysics of trafficking, how forces and energies are manipulated to sculpt cellular membranes. (See e.g. here for a paper and here for a video.) Even more directly, this work grew out of a side project of mine when I was a postdoc, collaborating with Randy Schekman’s lab on investigating the structures that result from mixing up different combinations of trafficking proteins and lipid vesicles. They were fun experiments — though ‘experiments’ isn’t really the right word for exploratory observations of strange shapes — that led me later, at Oregon, to do “real” experiments that quantify forces and mechanics.
Coincidentally, a few weeks ago a friend of mine at a biotech startup asked if I could make an illustration of the trafficking of a membrane-binding drug. (I probably can’t reveal anything more specific!) The image above is my watercolor + colored pencil illustration of the first step; there are two other panels (not shown) that depict the later stages of detached, spherical vesicles. Since the drug wasn’t very prominent, I decided that the final version required some editing; it looks something like this: