As the cells in an embryo grow and divide, they must adopt different fates to generate complex structures and tissues with different cell types. Depending on the fate they adopt, cells undergo coordinated cell migrations to ensure they end up in the right place in the embryo—intestine on the inside, skin on the outside, with muscle in between. This is true for humans as well as worms.
In the Amanda Zacharias Lab, we are interested in understanding the mechanisms underlying these cell fate decisions and migrations, in particular how cellular metabolism impacts these decisions. Oocytes are packed with nutrients and energy for the developing embryo and, with the exception of mammals, more cannot be obtained until the organism hatches and eats. Cellular metabolic pathways are necessary to turn these into the building blocks developing cells need and if the right substrates are not available at the right time, key developmental events can fail. Maternal vitamin deficiencies are known to impact cellular metabolism and result in birth defects in humans but in many cases, the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. We are investigating this problem using the nematode worm C. elegans as a model because its development is less complex, making it possible to characterize it comprehensively and quantitatively.
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