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Scot C. Kuo, PhD

Scot Kuo
Research Interests: Instrumentation and image analysis for fluorescence, confocal, and electron microscopes; super-resolution microscopy; microscopy of living cells; cell migration and motility
Wood Basic Science G10
Research Interests

Research Interests

Research Description: Cell Motility and Cell Mechanics using novel laser-based optical tools

Our long-term goals are to understand cell motility, which is critical for immunological defense and wound healing, but unwanted during metastatic cancers. Because these processes are ultimately mechanical in nature, our focus is developing and applying new laser-based optical instrumentation with high-resolution microscopy imaging to understand cellular mechanics.

What tools do we use? In addition to mature biochemical and cell biological techniques, we’ve developed and invented a number of advanced laser-based optical techniques to study live-cell processes. One example is analytical. Using laser-scanning confocal microscopy, we’ve developed new quantitative paradigms that push its limits of resolution, allowing the depletion forces of polymerizing actin cytoskeleton to be observed for the first time. A second example is new instrumentation and analysis. Using ultra-high resolution laser-tracking (‘nano-tracking’), we invented a new way (“microrheology”) to measure cell mechanics during physiological processes. For example, the shapes of cells during cell division (cytokinesis) are linearly related to mechanical moduli of cellular cortex across many cytoskeletal mutants. Other instrumentation that we develop are optical tweezers (photonic forces), atomic force microscopy, and total-internal reflectance fluorescence microscopy.

What’s an example of our discoveries? The intracellular bacterial pathogen, Listeria monocytogenes, causes food-born disease. Like other more severe pathogens (Rocky Mountain spotted fever bacteria and smallpox virus), Listeria ‘hijack’ host cell proteins to generate actin rocket tails that push bacteria into adjacent cells, thus spreading infection. These host cell proteins are the same proteins used during cell motility and phagocytosis, hence providing insight into normal cellular function. Using high-resolution ‘nano-tracking’, we discovered that Listeria moves with step-like motions and the steps are the size of the actin monomers used to construct tails. Steps are completely unexpected and shatter prior models of actin-based motility (see for animations of models).

Titles & Affiliations


  • Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering
  • Associate Professor, Cell Biology
  • Director, Microscope Facility


  • PhD, Biochemistry, University of California, Berkeley, 1988
  • BA, Biochemistry, Harvard University, 1982
Faculty News

Recent Highlights

  • March 19, 2019
    Scot Kuo is one of 17 scientists in the U.S.—engineers, physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, and biologists—who will share in $17 million from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
  • April 15, 2016
    At the nexus of research and technology, Dr Kuo secures hi-tech hardware for scientists, aids researchers determine what equipment can help them achieve research needs, and advises BME students with equipment design strategies.

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