Biological structures are different from manmade structures in that they can grow and adapt while maintaining structural integrity. For example, bones remodel depending on the structural demands due to the exercise and weight of the animal. Plants strengthen their stems in response to physical distress, such as the increase in size and weight or being bent. A representative example is reaction wood formation, in which plants locally generate extra wood, a major load-bearing tissue, where extra structural support is needed.
Such dynamic structural stabilisation requires constant active sensing and response mechanisms within the biological cells. My group has embarked on multiscale, integrative research to unfold the mechanisms underlying the active structural calibration in plants. In particular we are taking a parallel modelling approach to simulate the dynamic structural calibration in the plant shoot. We use the Finite Element Method to calculate the local structural vulnerability. This output feeds into the pattern formation model based on the L-System to simulate the developmental responses.
In addition, we are developing two single cell resources to study mechano-sensing and response. We have developed microfluidic cell traps to precisely manipulate the physico-chemical environment of single cells. In parallel, we are establishing a synthetic biology toolset to navigate stem cell differentiation in plant cell cultures. With this toolset, one can create single cells equipped with characteristics specific to certain cell types, such as wood cells.