Physics Colloquium - Friday, Oct. 13th, 2006, 4:00 P.M.

E300 Math/Science Center; Refreshments at 3:30 P.M. in Room E200

Anirvan Sengupta
Rutgers University

Phase Transitions in the State of the Genome

Stem cells have been at the center of much scientific excitement and controversy for the last decade. How exactly pluripotent embryonic stem cells specialize to particular cell fates, like the ones that make the skin or neurons or blood cells, is a great mystery. At the heart of it is the ability of the cellular machinery to generate such ``epigenetic" states, namely the possibility of having many different kinds of cells, despite having the exact same genetic material. Some of the "epigenetic" effects involve modifying the state of DNA is packaging. Why certain parts of our genomes are packed differently in different cells is only partially understood. We will study this same question in a much simpler system: baker's yeast. As I will discuss, understanding multiple states of the cell has much in common with the physics of phase transitions. Armed with the approach borrowed from physics, one can make several qualitative predictions that could be experimentally verified.