Jessica Polka

Mobility and maintenance of a carbon-fixing micro compartment: bioengineering applications and insights into broad mechanisms of bacterial spatial organization, with Pamela A. Silver and Timothy J. Mitchison

Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

I am interested in the mechanisms that guide proteins to assemble into mesoscale structures, from force-generating cytoskeletal polymers to metabolic microcompartments. While the basic principles underlying these systems underpin much of biological organization, I focus on tractable polymers found in bacteria. For example, as a graduate student in Dyche MullinsÂ’ lab at UCSF, I reconstituted a three-component bacterial plasmid-segregating actin system in vitro and elucidated the multiple regulatory functions of its single accessory protein. As a postdoc, I have investigated the assembly of the carboxysome, a protein organelle in cyanobacteria that we found grows like a crystal until it is rapidly coated by a layer of shell proteins. Currently, I am interested in a long-range protrusive apparatus actuated by chemical changes.

I hope that a thorough understanding of these machines can permit the rational design of self-assembling structures suited for use in nanotechnology, metabolic engineering, and drug delivery.