Robert B. Phillips
Fred and Nancy Morris Professor of Biophysics, Biology, and Physics
Research InterestsPhysical Biology of the Cell; Biophysical Theory; Single-molecule Experiments; Single-cell Experiments
Physical Biology of the Cell
Our work focuses on three primary areas which serve as case studies in the physical dissection of biological problems.
First, we have had a long standing interest in how viruses transfer their genetic material to their infected hosts. On the theoretical side, we have explored the free energy cost of DNA packing within viruses and how that stored energy can be used to power genome transfer. These efforts are complemented by single-molecule studies in which we watch individual viruses deliver their genomes in real time. These experiments reveal a rich interplay between the free energy which drives ejection and the friction that the DNA encounters as it enters the infected host.
Second, we have been fascinated by the interplay between the informational and physical characteristics of DNA which has led to efforts on single-molecule and single-cell studies of how transcription factors interact with, deform and loop DNA. These single-molecule approaches are coupled with statistical mechanical modeling which permit the determination of the nature of the DNA-protein interactions that mediate many genomic transactions. Until recently, our efforts have primarily focused on bacterial transcription, but of late we have generalized these efforts to V(D)J recombination as a signature eukaryotic example of the interplay between information and physical processes on DNA.