How do cells move?
We combine microscopy, comparative genomics, and phylogenetics, using both established and new model organisms, to provide comprehensive and coherent answers to this fundamental question.
Eukaryotic cells physically manipulate their environments; swimming through liquids, crawling across surfaces, and actively ingesting objects large and small. Inside these cells lies a seething mass of cytoplasm through which thousands of different objects are pushed and pulled to specific locations. These and other dynamic processes are controlled by polymer systems called the cytoskeleton. The two most common cytoskeletal polymers—actin and microtubules—evolved over a billion years ago and are still used today by animals, fungi, plants, and their unicellular relatives. Although actin and microtubules themselves are surprisingly conserved across species, the proteins that regulate their dynamics vary wildly, contributing to organismal diversity critical to human health and agriculture. We combine cell biology, comparative genomics, and phylogenetics to understand the evolution, diversification, and regulation of actin and microtubule networks. This research program harnesses the burgeoning wealth of fully sequenced genomes and molecular tool development to (1) identify the molecular mechanisms that specify distinct cytoskeletal functions, and (2) determine how and when the cytoskeleton changed during evolution.