How do cells acquire their specific differentiated identities during animal development? How can cells be provoked to change their identity and undergo different pathways of differentiation? How do complex developmental processes occur with such high fidelity? What is the basis for evolutionary innovation in the regulatory instructions for these processes? Answers to these questions are important to tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, mechanisms of cancer biology, and the development of personalized medicines.
Our lab explores the molecular genetic, cellular, and evolutionary mechanisms of development using the celebrated model organism, C. elegans. We are applying an array of advanced genetic, genomic, and cell biological tools to tackle these problems. These studies are directed at understanding the regulatory processes that control cellular plasticity and reprogramming. We also investigate the mechanisms that regulate fidelity of stem cell proliferation, apoptosis, left-right handedness determination, and maintenance of the mitochondrial genome. By taking advantage of variation in natural C. elegans isolates from around the world, we seek to understand how the regulatory networks underlying these processes are modified over evolutionary time scales.
Finally, we are also collaborating on a project to explore the possibilities of sending microscopic animals, including C. elegans and tardigrades into interstellar space, with the goal of understanding the effects of near light-speed travel beyond the solar system on animal biology.