This is a fast growing research area at the University of Chicago. Our researchers are studying fundamental questions about the nature of stem cells: how are stem cells maintained, what are the lineages they can produce, and how are cell fates and differentiation controlled? These investigations concentrate on a variety of specific stem cells, including the germline stem cells of Drosophila, neural stem cells and, for several of our researchers, the blood and immune system stem cells. Research in plants offers an opportunity to ask how totipotency (the ability of each cell to regenerate the whole organism) is achieved. Our faculty members are also exploring the closely related topic of regeneration, focusing on a variety of tissues including heart, muscle, pancreas, and liver. An increased understanding of stem cell biology and regenerative processes will provide new insights into normal development and cell maintenance/renewal, but importantly also has major biomedical relevance for our efforts to better combat disease and injury.
Much of our developmental biology research exploits the power of genetic models. These models include yeast, fruit-flies, nematode worms, Arabidopsis, mice, and zebrafish. Multiple faculty members utilize Drosophila and C. elegans in their research, studying fundamental problems such as cytokinesis, growth control, morphogenesis and stem cell maintenance. These invertebrates provide the small size, rapid life cycle, and powerful techniques that are ideal for the design of elegant genetic screens. The small plant Arabidopsis thaliana offers similar advantages. Mouse and zebrafish, the two vertebrate organisms with the best developed genetic tools, are studied by faculty members interested in processes ranging from axial patterning, organogenesis, and cancer biology to brain development.
Building the brain is arguably the most complex problem that embryonic development must solve. Our researchers study various aspects of developmental neurobiology, including early regionalization of the developing brain, the genetics that underlie brain development abnormalities, acquisition of neuronal identity, and how neural circuits are built and function.
Understanding developmental evolution provides an essential key to understanding biological form and diversity. While evolution is an unprogrammed non-repeating historical process, development is a predictable process repeated in each lifecycle. However, for evolution to occur, developmental programs must change. Our “evo-devo” researchers use comparative approaches, combining the diverse tools of molecular evolution, comparative embryology, systems biology, and paleontology to understand how developmental programs change over evolutionary time scales.
Our faculty members working in this area investigate a wide variety of regulatory processes, including cell cycle control, growth control, cell differentiation, cell death, chromatin dynamics, transcriptional control, and the functions of tumor suppressor genes. This research has significant biomedical relevance, addressing a wide range of diseases including cancers, heart disease, muscular dystrophy, lysosomal storage diseases, neurodevelopmental disorders, and hemoglobinopathies.
Many of our faculty members are working at the interface of cell biology and developmental biology. Research in this area focuses on the cytoskeleton, cell polarization, cell compartments and signaling, cell migration, and morphogenesis of the embryo. Studies in the model plant Arabidopsis address how development of complex forms is achieved in the absence of cell migration, and how environmental cues are incorporated into the highly plastic process of plant growth and development. Yeast cells as well as the accessible embryos of Drosophila, C. elegans and zebrafish lend themselves ideally to the imaging studies that drive much of this research.
Urs Schmidt-Ott Lab
Neil Shubin Lab
Robert Ho Lab
Cliff Ragsdale Lab
Vicky Prince Lab