Molecular mechanisms controlling cell fate determination and cell proliferation during C. elegans development
We use the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans as a model system to discover fundamental mechanisms in biology relating to development and ageing. For example, how is cell number regulated during development? How do cells end up in the correct place, doing the right thing at the right time, so that the whole organism works properly? How is it that the extraordinarily complex process of ageing can be controlled by tweaking just a single gene?
To investigate development, we study a population of epidermal stem cells, known as seam cells, which undergo stereotypical patterns of division that can be easily interrogated at the genetic level. For our ageing research, our aim is not simply to understand how the lifespan of an organism is regulated but to understand more about healthspan. Is it possible to manipulate genes such that ageing-associated disease and frailty is alleviated? We have two main approaches to studying the genetics of ageing. The first involves assessing the extent to which chromatin modulators regulate healthy ageing, and the second approach is to look at novel genetic combinations that have unexpected longevity effects, thus exploiting existing genetic resources in new ways to provide novel insights. Finally, we are interested in using the unique features of C. elegans as a useful model organism in more applied areas of biological research. This involves collaboration with industries focussed on drug discovery and chemical testing, as well as using C.elegans to investigate the evolution of agrochemical resistance among crop pests.