Area of Doctoral Study: Biological Sciences
Undergraduate Institute: Bowie State University
Research Mentor: Michelle Starz-Gaiano, Ph.D.
Current Position: Postdoctoral Fellow, SPIRE IRACDA Program, UNC Chapel Hill
Description of Research
My research specifically aims at understanding how is it that, in a tissue comprised of cells that are seemingly the same, a small population is able to receive and respond to a external signals that specifies them as different. Gaining insight into this idea is important for understanding processes that require precise regulation of cell fate such as the development of an animal from an egg. We are employing the Drosophila melanogaster oocyte development to study cell specification amongst a small population of specialized cells referred to as border cells. Border cells differentiate and detach from the anterior epithelium and migrate posteriorly toward the oocyte while remaining in a cluster. Border cells display the characteristics of collective cell migration as they move. The JAK/STAT signaling pathway is essential in the expression of specific genes needed for coordinating border cell migration. We have found that border cell specification and migration can be genetically separated and that specification depends on proper spatial expression of JAK/STAT signaling. We are using a combination of genetic, immunohistological, and live-imaging approaches to define border cell arrangement prior to their detachment from the anterior epithelium. Conventional views indicate that STAT activity occurs in a gradient across the anterior epithelium. The cells closest to the polar cells have the highest STAT activity and therefore migrate. An atypical view revealed unexpected differences in STAT activity among the follicle cells in contact with the polar cells in the anterior epithelium. These improved characterizations of migratory cell specification prior to epithelial detachment will lead to an enhanced general understanding of cell migration.