The Hunter lab takes a wide range of experimental approaches to investigate how gene activity is controlled. Most of our work focuses on the experimentally accessible model organism C. elegans.
Early embryonic development is controlled by maternal RNAs and proteins deposited in the egg. We are interested in how these activities are spatially and temporally deployed to pattern the embryo. Specifically, we are investigating the post-transcriptional control mechanisms that target expression of the caudal-like gene pal-1 to posterior blastomeres in 4-cell and older embryos.
Primary experimental approaches: Biochemistry, Genetics, Molecular Biology
Master Regulators and Transcriptional Networks
A conserved developmental mechanism is to spatially and temporally deploy powerful cell fate regulators that initiate broad developmental programs. Classic examples include the HOX genes that specify anterior-posterior regional identity in all animals. Our goal is to exploit the experimental accessibility and relative simplicity of C. elegans embryos in order to generate a systems-level description of the gene circuitry (network topology) initiated by pal-1 activity and then to infer and test functional units (modules) that enable pal-1 to robustly specify posterior development.
Primary experimental approaches: Genomics, RNAi, Molecular Biology, Computation, Comparative Phylogenomics
Intercellular Spread of RNAi
One of the more fascinating aspects of RNAi in C. elegans is that silencing information spreads between cells and is even transmitted to the progeny. This systemic property of RNAi does not appear to be restricted to nematodes and some of the machinery that transports dsRNA in C. elegans is broadly conserved among animals. We are using the powerful genetics of C. elegans to identify and characterize genes required for the process and as well as characterizing the activities of the vertebrate homologues. We are also exploring the natural history of C. elegans to understand why systemic RNAi exist.
Primary experimental approaches: Genetics, Molecular biology, RNAi, Biophysics, Cell Biology