MIT Unit Affiliation:
Lab Affiliation(s):
Krystyn Van Vliet
Post Doc Sponsor / Advisor:
Krystyn Van Vliet
Areas of Expertise:
  • Cellular Mechanics
  • Biophysics
  • Simulation and Data Analysis
Date PhD Completed:
June, 2011
Expected End Date of Post Doctoral Position:
January 1, 2014

Matt Whitfield

  • Post Doctoral

MIT Unit Affiliation: 

  • Materials Science and Engineering

Lab Affiliation(s): 

Krystyn Van Vliet

Post Doc Sponsor / Advisor: 

Krystyn Van Vliet

Date PhD Completed: 

Jun, 2011

Top 3 Areas of Expertise: 

Cellular Mechanics
Simulation and Data Analysis

Expected End Date of Post Doctoral Position: 

January 1, 2014


Research Projects: 

  • Untangling the heterogeneity within adult stem cell populations through long-term in vitro imaging experiments to understand current therapeutic limitations and develop new technologies
  • Utilizing a variety of experimental and computational techniques to probe the multiscale mechanical characteristics of cells
  • Leading a team developing novel high-throughput assays to observe and mitigate microbe-influenced corrosion of steels

Thesis Title: 

E. Coli Can Do It, why Can't We?: Bioinspired Design for a Receptor-ligand Based Adhesive

Thesis Abstract: 

Escherichia coli thrive in aqueous environments and depend highly on their ability to adhere to tissue surfaces even in the presence of dislodging forces. Their adhesive ability is of interest not only because E. coli can often cause harmful infections, but also because their adhesive prowess is unmatched by artificial systems. E. coli exhibit a shear enhanced adhesion in which increased shearing forces actually improve their ability to bind to surfaces. E. coli express an adhesive protein called FimH that binds to mannosylated residues on tissue surfaces in a force dependent manner known as a catch bond. The FimH adhesins are displayed on the distal tips of adhesive appendages called fimbriae which can extend by uncoiling under tensile forces. In this thesis, I sought to achieve a better understanding of how the interplay between the FimH/mannose bond and fimbrial properties allows E. coli to accomplish their remarkable adhesive feats. I also tested whether these adhesive components could be removed from E. coli and used to mediate adhesion between engineered surfaces at larger scales. I developed a simulation system capable of testing hypotheses about E. coli’s adhesion and used it in conjunction with parallel-plate flow chamber and atomic force spectroscopy techniques to perform the work in this thesis. I found that a combination of fimbrial deformation and catch bond formation could explain the initiation of adhesion and that fimbrial uncoiling could explain the ability of E. coli to remain adhered when faced with changing shearing forces. Finally, I demonstrated the ability for FimH tethered by fimbriae to mediate adhesion between micron2 scale surfaces. The adhesion was both reversible and self-cleaning, resisting fouling by soluble inhibitors. Future work will attempt to continue scaling the adhesive to larger surfaces.

Top 5 Awards and honors (name of award, date received): 

Nanotechnology IGERT Fellowship (2009-2011)
Henry L. Gray Fellowship (2006-2007)

5 Recent Papers: 

MJ Whitfield, T Ghose, WE Thomas. (2010), "Shear-Stabilized Rolling Behavior of E. coli Examined with Simulations," Biophysical Journal 99 (8), 2470-2478.

MJ Whitfield, WE Thomas. (2011), "A Nanoadhesive Composed of Receptor-Ligand Bonds,"
The Journal of Adhesion 87 (5), 427-446.

RK Paradise, MJ Whitfield, DA Lauffenburger, KJ Van Vliet. (2013), "Directional cell migration in an extracellular pH gradient: A model study with an engineered cell line and primary microvascular endothelial cells," Experimental Cell Research 319 (4), 487–497.

MJ Whitfield, WCJ Lee, KJ Van Vliet. (2013), "Onset of heterogeneity in culture-expanded bone marrow stromal cells," Stem Cell Research 11 (3), 1365 - 1377.

KH Li, MJ Whitfield, and KJ Van Vliet. (2013) “Beating the bugs: Roles of microbial biofilms in corrosion,” Corrosion Reviews, (in press).

Contact Information:
77 Massachusetts Ave
(617) 324-2393