Studying the molecular bases of cell and tissue development

Our lab studies how animal tissues are built. We use confocal microscopy, Drosophila genetics, molecular biology, targeted proteomics, and mathematical simulations to determine the molecular bases of how epithelial cells are first formed and then re-shaped during development. Epithelia are sheets of adherent cells that form our skin and coat our organs. Proper epithelial structure is critical for guiding embryo development and directing adult functions (e.g. nutrient uptake in the gut), and its loss is associated with cancer progression. 

We are particularly interested in the cross-talk between different molecular circuits and machinery responsible for epithelial development (polarity, adhesion, cytoskeletal and membrane trafficking complexes). The focus is on two molecular networks: (1) Par protein circuits involving Par-1, Bazooka (Par-3), Par-6 and aPKC, and (2) Arf small G protein regulatory circuits involving the Arf-GEF Steppke. We are investigating the signals upstream of these circuits, the interplay among the core members of the circuits, and the downstream effects of the circuits on cytoskeletal networks and adherens junctions for initial cell formation and polarization, and for subsequent embryo morphogenesis.  

Overall, our work aims to define core molecular mechanisms of cellular and epithelial morphogenesis in animals.