Research in our lab focuses on the biology of germ cells. From generation to generation, germ cells provide the continuity of life. Despite their critical role, we still know little about how germ cells are initially specified and what allows germ cells to evade the deadly fate of the soma. Germ cells are highly specialized; their role is to produce gametes and to escape somatic differentiation. In contrast to somatic cell fates, no master-regulator transcription factor has been identified that specifies germ cell fate. Studies in flies, worms, and mice have revealed three general programs that regulate germ cell behavior: 1) Transcriptional silencing coincides with germ cell specification, which takes place early in development of most species. 2) Unique and conserved germ cell-specific RNA regulators are active throughout the germ cell life cycle to regulate germ cell behavior and protect the germ line genome. 3) Germline-soma interactions are critical for multiple aspects of germ cell behavior, such as germ cell migration, stem cell establishment and maintenance, and differentiation of germ cells into egg or sperm.

Projects in our lab to address multiple aspects of germ cell biology and germ line soma interactions:

  • Characterize germ plasm at the structural and molecular level and identify the cellular mechanisms that lead to germ cell formation.
  • Systematically identify RNAs localized in the germ plasm, identified new patterns of translational control in germ cells, and derive a 3'UTR code for translational regulation of localized RNAs.
  • Use in vivo imaging and in vitro approaches to determine how germ cell migratory behavior is controlled.
  • Conduct new, targeted genetic screens to identify genes required for establishment and maintenance of germ line stem cell fate and stem cell differentiation.
  • Characterize the cellular consequences of soma-germ line interactions in mutants defective in Pi and Rasi RNA production.