Molecular & Cellular Biology Program firstname.lastname@example.org University of Iowa 357 Medical Research Center Iowa City, IA 52242-1182 Phone: 319-335-7748 Fax: 319-335-7656
The Phillips lab studies, primarily using C. elegans developmental genetics, the means by which cells achieve specific molecular character during development and how this character is altered in disease states.
How does an egg become an adult?
The means by which a single undifferentiated oocyte develops into a multicellular organism with numerous, intricately connected cell types is the focus of the Phillips lab. Defects in the process of cell fate determination can lead to disease or death. Cell-to-cell communication is a common way that a cell is instructed to proceed down one particular developmental path versus another. One way that cells execute these instructions is through asymmetric division of a polarized mother cell, generating two daughter cells that contain different fate determinants and thus proceed down different developmental paths.
C. elegans as a model for developmental genetics
Since all multicellular animals progress through development by overcoming similar developmental obstacles, the molecular mechanisms that overcome these obstacles have often been conserved during evolution. We use the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans to address the problem of how cell differentiation works in multicellular animals. C. elegans has many attributes that make it well-suited to study developmental biology, including excellent genetics, transgenics, and a sequenced genome. Importantly for our research, C. elegans also uses conserved cell signaling pathways to polarize mother cells and induce asymmetric divisions throughout its development.
The Wnt signaling pathway regulates cell fate in all animals. The function and regulation of the transcriptional activator β-catenin is a crucial step in the Wnt signaling pathway. β-catenin mis-regulation is associated with developmental defects and human diseases such as cancer. Wnt signaling regulates many asymmetric divisions in C. elegans. An essential component of this pathway in C. elegans is the β-catenin, SYS-1. We use SYS-1 to dissect how β-catenins function. Other areas of interest in the Phillips lab are determining how the Wnt pathway functions in C. elegans, β-catenin regulation, and β-catenin evolution. These studies will help us understand the larger question of why animal cells differentiate the way they do
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