Interactions between cells and their extracellular environment play an essential role in controlling tissue architecture, cell survival, and cell migration. These processes are important for normal animal development and are disrupted during cancer progression.
1) Discover and characterize new genes involved in cell migration.
We are using the nematode C. elegans as a model system to study genes involved in cell migration processes. We have identified hundreds of genes required for cell migration and are currently studying a gene, CACN-1, that helps cells know when and where to migrate, and when to stop migrating. The connection between CACN-1 and known GTPase signaling cascades gives this study tremendous potential to improve our understanding of the fundamental regulation of cell migration during animal development and in pathological conditions such as metastatic cancer.
2) Investigate how mechanical forces are sensed and interpreted by cells.
Filamins are large cytoskeletal scaffolding proteins that interact with actin and other proteins. Filamins link the extracellular environment and cellular signaling pathways by transducing mechanical information into biochemical signals. These biochemical signals can control a variety of cell responses, such as migration and contraction. We are investigating the role of filamin using the nematode C. elegans as a model system. The C. elegans reproductive system, a simple contractile tube, is an ideal in vivo system to study mechanosensation, contraction, and cytoskeletal organization.
3) Investigate how production of medicinal compounds is regulated in the plant Catharanthus roseus.
The broad vision of this research is to address the need for an alternative supply of critical plant-derived pharmaceuticals using plant cell cultures. We plan to describe the transcriptional regulation of enzymes required for biosynthesis of these compounds and to design an effective engineering strategy for overcoming innate blocks to biosynthesis.