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In our young research group we focus on how translational regulation contributes to cellular behavior and developmental decisions, using a combination of genetic, biochemical and single molecule imaging approaches. In addition, we aim to develop new, innovative imaging and labeling technologies which allow us to visualize and control gene expression dynamics.
Our human body consists of trillions of cells, which together form our tissues and organs. The behavior, identity and functioning of each of these cells depends on the proteins present in the cell. Accurate protein levels are of critical importance as even small deviations in the levels of a single protein can have a big impact on cellular function and can lead to diseases. Often mRNA levels are used as a proxy for protein levels. However, recent advances in genome wide technologies have revealed that mRNA levels by themselves are not sufficient to predict protein abundance as translation rates between different mRNAs or between the same mRNA within a different cellular environment can vary substantially. Particularly during dynamic processes, such as developmental transitions and cellular differentiation, translational control is likely to have an important role in gene expression.
The goal of the group is to visualize and understand when and where proteins are synthesized and how changes in translation efficiencies affect cell fate and organismal behavior.
To address these questions, we will make use of the round worm Caenorhabditis elegans as a model system. C. elegans provides an attractive animal system in which to study the role of translational control during development for several reasons. Most importantly, the animal is fully transparent, which allows us to visualize translation in all the different cell types as they differentiate and the animal grows. In addition, most of the proteins involved in translation (including translation initiation, elongation and termination factors, as well as the ribosomal proteins) are conserved between worms and humans. Moreover, its invariant cell linage and the wide variety of efficient genetic tools, make C. elegans a very attractive animal to study the dynamics of translation and identify new regulators of translation.