Lipids not only provide a means for compartmentalization of cells and energy storage, but they are also important signalling molecules. They are critical for normal development, and their disregulation is associated with diseases such as multiple sclerosis, asthma, and cancer, and much is still unknown about the role of specific lipids in different signalling cascades. My lab is interested in understanding the developmental roles of lipids that are modified by the Wunen (Wun) lipid phosphate phosphatases (LPPs).
LPPs can function both intracellularly and at the cell surface to regulate lipid phosphate levels. Our goals are to comprehensively identify the in vivo substrates of Wunen, and to dissect the signalling pathways in which LPPs act. Wunens were first discovered through their role in regulating germ cell migration and survival in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Whilst we focus on understanding how they function in this process we pursue additional strands of research on the behaviour of the somatic cells of the gonad and the roles of LPPs in the development of other organs in Drosophila.
Why the fruit fly?
Since the pioneering genetic screens conducted in the 1980s by Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus, the fruit fly has been a workhorse in developmental biology, elucidating fundamental biological principles and identifying critical molecular pathways. The secret of their success lies in their relatively simple but powerful genetics, a rapid generation time of under 2 weeks and the ability to analyze the development of their embryos, which a mother lays by the dozen and which develop outside of her body. The embryo requires only a day to fully develop and in this time it goes from a single cell to many thousands in a highly reproducible and orderly fashion. By the time the embryo is ready to hatch into a feeding larva it contains many complex organs including a nervous system, gastrointestinal system, tissues for air exchange, an open circulatory system, and muscular system. Therefore the fruit fly embryo is ideally suited to analyze how cells migrate and specialize to form tissues and organs and to discover the genes that control these processes.