Immunostained C. elegans female germ line (red: stem cells to the left, oocytes to the right; green: early meiosis)
Gene expression programs instruct the development of an organism via cell fate determination and cell differentiation. The importance of DNA-based controls is undisputed and the regulation of mRNA transcription is still an area of active research. However, in the last decade additional levels of gene expression controls became apparent. In particular, RNA-based controls are now recognized as widespread and crucial during development across metazoans.
Our group studies the post-transcriptional control mechanisms that decide on how much protein is synthesized from a given amount of mRNAs in the cell cytoplasm. Controlling the translation of specific mRNAs offers unique advantages for the precise regulation of diverse expression patterns and intracellular asymmetries. Furthermore, it provides an immediate response to adjust protein gradients and their local concentration without invoking transcriptional regulation. This flexibility is especially important at a time when the genome is transcriptionally inaccessible (i.e. during the mitotic cell cycle or meiotic progression). Therefore, our group focuses on mRNA regulatory networks that control protein synthesis programs of germ cell development and early embryogenesis.
Germ cell development is not only a shared trait among all sexually reproducing organisms; it is of utmost importance for the fertility of individuals and preservation of the species. Therefore, understanding where, when and how translational regulation directs germ cell development may also offer inroads into medical applications to treat the steadily increasing number of infertile human beings. Intriguingly, similar principles of post-transcriptional control mechanisms are employed in different tissues. For example, emerging work on neuronal development and neuronal plasticity emphasizes the importance and conservation of such regulatory mechanisms for correct tissue development and function.
To address these questions, our group combines a broad range of disciplines - Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, Biochemistry and Structural Biology - paired with the power of the genetically tractable model organism C. elegans. The lab collaborates on several techniques with experts in the fields for image processing (MPI-CBG facilities), crystal structure analysis (Elena Conti, MPI-Biochemistry), and cryo-electron microscopy (Thomas Müller-Reichert) - TU Dresden. The work benefits also from collaborations with single-molecule physicists in the Department of Bioengineering (Sua Myong) - University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, and soft matter physicists in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (Cliff Brangwynne) - Princeton University.
Sophia Millonigg, Ryuji Minasaki, Marco Nousch and Christian R Eckmann GLD-4-mediated translational activation regulates the size of the proliferative germ cell pool in the adult C. elegans germ line. (accepted)
In the media
Gracida, Xicotencatly; Eckmann, Christian R.
Fertility and germline stem cell maintenance under different diets requires nhr-114/HNF4 in C. elegans.