Research in my group focuses on developmental genetics in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, Our overall aim is to understand how gene networks encode developmental programmes, and in doing this we seek to integrate molecular mechanisms into a whole organism level of understanding. One major interest at present is the regulation of cell number during development. The transition from cell proliferation to differentiation is a key regulatory step in the development and subsequent maintenance of an organism's tissues and organs, and is of course at the heart of disease processes such as cancer. At present, the mechanisms controlling the balance between proliferation and differentiation of cells are poorly understood and we aim to use C. elegans as a powerful model organism in which to gain a molecular understanding of how this balance is achieved during normal development. Stem cells have the ability to both self-renew as well as give rise to differentiating daughters that can sometimes generate (or even re-generate) a particular tissue over the lifetime of an organism. Stem cells therefore need to constantly juggle the conflicting demands of proliferation and differentiation in order for a multicellular organism to develop and operate properly.
Our main focus at present involves trying to understand the molecular genetics of cell proliferation and differentiation in a particular stem cell lineage, the seam cell lineage, involved in the generation of male specific sense organs. Seam cells in C. elegans are neuroectodermal cells that provide a useful paradigm for the stem cell mode of division, as they divide throughout larval development to produce one daughter that retains the seam stem cell fate of further proliferation, and one daughter that differentiates, as a result of asymmetric division. They also undergo symmetrical self-renewing divisions at the beginning of each larval stage (and additionally in males) in order to expand the number of progenitors.