National Science Foundation-Supported Research Program

My students and I do research on the structures and mechanisms that drive the process by which one animal cell divides it’s cytoplasm into two daughter cells.  This process is called cytokinesis and it is fundamental to all animal cell life and we typically study it in the rapidly dividing early embryos of sea urchins. The micrographs above show a sea urchin embryo during cytokinesis which has been fluorescently stained for microtubules (panels A,C) which help move the chromosomes for nuclear division (the reforming nuclei are stained in panel C), and actin (panels B,C) filaments which are part of the contractile ring of actin and myosin II filaments that cleaves the cytoplasm during cytokinesis. We are currently involved in determining how the proteins that make up the contractile ring – actin, myosin II, septin, anillin, formin, etc – are structurally organized and how this architecture generates the contractile function required for cytokinesis.  This research is sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation in collaboration with Prof. Brad Shuster and his lab at New Mexico State University.  Our two labs get together in the summers at University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island, WA in order to take advantage of access to the exceptionally healthy sea urchin populations there.