Big Picture

In the Loza-Coll Lab, we are interested in the genetic mechanisms that control fate decisions in stem cells.

          Stem cells are defined by their capacity to undergo “self-renewing” divisions, generating a new copy of themselves and a sister that will differentiate to carry out a specific function within the organism. We have a fair understanding of genes that keep stem cells in their undifferentiated state, as well as those that underlie differentiation. But we are comparatively far from understanding how stem cells choose between these two fates. Because stem cells do not always follow an invariant pattern of asymmetric divisions. When an organism needs to rapidly generate large numbers of cells (such as during embryonic development, or during wound healing), stem cells may undergo some rounds of symmetric self-renewing divisions, generating two new copies of the stem cell. On the other hand, stem cells may occasionally undergo symmetric differentiating divisions, in which both daughter cells commit to terminal differentiation.

Why care about any of this?

           Because a wide range of health problems originate from defects in stem cell behavior. When stem cells can’t differentiate, they accumulate exponentially and form a tumor, whereas stem cells that can’t divide could underlie diverse aging-associated declines in organ function. A better understanding of the genetic wiring that controls stem cells will help us devise new and better medical treatments to a host of diseases.

What we do.another pic of a fruit fly

In our laboratory, we use the model organism Drosophila melanogaster  (fruit flies) to study these important questions.

Using experimental genetics, microscopy and bioinformatic modeling, we are trying to identify the genes that control stem cells in a living organism. Since many pathways controlling fly stem cells appear conserved throughout evolution, we ultimately hope that our work will reveal genes that are critical in our own stem cells.

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