2015 Beckman Symposium   

Zemer Gitai, PhD

Presentation Date:

Zemer Gitai, PhD

Mechano-microbiology: a bacterial sense of touch

Princeton University

Molecular Biology


My lab focuses on the role of mechanical forces in shaping bacterial cells and communities. For example, we discovered that the mechanical properties of cytoplasmic polymers such as the bacterial cytoskeleton determine key features of cell shape determination, metabolism, and protein diffusion. We also found that bacteria sense and respond to their mechanical environment. In Caulobacter crescentus, flow interacts with the bacterium's curved cell shape to stimulate surface attachment.  Meanwhile in Pseudomonas aeruginosa, shear forces stimulate a novel mode of surface motility while virulence is induced in response to sensing rigid surfaces. We are now focusing on exploiting bacterial systems as reductionist models for understanding the mechanisms of sensing and responding to mechanical forces and developing mechanics-based strategies for manipulating host interactions with pathogenic and commensal bacteria of importance to human health.


Zemer Gitai is an Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University.  He graduated with a bachelor's degree from MIT in 1996.  After completing his graduate studies at UCSF in 2002, Dr. Gitai became a postdoc in the lab of Dr. Lucy Shapiro at Stanford University where he pioneered the study of the MreB actin-like cytoskeleton in Caulobacter crescentus.  Dr. Gitai joined the faculty of Princeton University as an Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology in 2005. He was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2012.  He is currently the Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of Molecular Biology.

Dr. Gitai's research focuses on the cell biology of bacteria.  His lab studies how cells self-organize across spatial scales, using quantitative, molecular, and engineering approaches to understand to understand problems such as cell shape formation, cytoskeletal function, metabolic organization, and community structure.  Dr. Gitai has published over 40 original articles in leading journals, including Cell, Molecular Cell, Nature Cell Biology, and PNAS.  His work discovered new components of the bacterial cytoskeleton, new functions for bacterial polymers in metabolism, compartmentalization, and chromosome dynamics, and established the importance of protein assembly for unexpected processes like metabolism and pathogenesis.  Dr. Gitai's achievements have been recognized by many prestigious awards, including the NIH New Innovator Award, the Beckman Young Investigator Award, and the HFSP Young Investigator Award.

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