Biological systems can be quite complex for intuitive interpretations. This is especially true in developmental biology, where robust patterns are established and maintained dynamically in ever-changing and inhomogeneous multicellular environments. Despite the discovery of many key regulatory modules in growth, morphogenesis and fate specification, we still understand little on how such modules are precisely executed, particularly when small initial differences may induce sharp segregation of developmental decisions.
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Cell and Molecular Biology
Our research is aimed at understanding the development and evolution of the nervous system. We focus on the visual system of insects, particularly at the level of how cell fates are specified. Changes to the number and types of neurons animals produce can be adaptive, allowing for expanded color vision in butterflies or providing more sensitive target detection for male flies that chase their mates.
Members of the Archaea (the third domain of life) that can produce methane are referred to as methanogens. These organisms are prevalent in a wide range of anoxic environments, including the human distal gut, and account for 75 to 80 percent of the annual methane emissions on our planet. Therefore methanogens have significant implications for climate science, biotechnology and even aspects of human health. Despite their importance, the physiology and evolution of methanogens is still poorly understood.
Asymmetric cell division is a fundamental mechanism to diversify cell fates. Adult stem cells often divide asymmetrically to generate one stem cell and one differentiating cell to maintain tissue homeostasis. Non-random sister chromatid segregation has been proposed as a potential mechanism utilized by stem cells to protect the genome from mutations or to confer distinct epigenetic information to daughter cells. However, the underlying mechanisms or the biological significance of such a phenomenon has never been directly demonstrated.
Organisms have developed remarkable specializations to sense and navigate their environments. Fish are able to detect predators and prey using a network of mechanosensory hair cells, called the lateral line, that are located on the surface of the skin. These cells detect disruptions in their surrounding fluid and convert mechanical information to electrical impulses that are relayed to the brain. The mechanosensory hair cells of the lateral line are both structurally and functionally similar to those of the inner ear that mediate hearing and balance.
A primary cilium is presented as a meso-scale device that senses and translates extracellular information into intracellular biochemical reactions. These input cues manifest in a variety of forms ranging from chemical to mechanical ones. Deregulation of these information transfer leads to human diseases known as ciliopathies. Due to its diffraction-limited dimension and semi-membrane-bound topology, a primary cilium has been a daunting compartment to visualize and manipulate signaling events on site.