Scialog: Collaborative Teams - 2017
Physics, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Quantification of the Wnt Morphogen Gradient in Hydra
Processes occurring within living cells are dauntingly complex. But because some are highly conserved – meaning they are similar across many varied animal species – understanding how a process works in one simple organism may give insight into how it works – or fails to work -- in humans.
That’s why three scientists – Eva-Maria Collins, University of California, San Diego; Adriana Dawes, The Ohio State University; and Thomas Kuhlman, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign -- are studying a cellular pathway made of a protein called Wnt/ß-catenin. Wnt is known to be partially responsible for body shape development in a genus of small, fresh-water animals called Hydra. In humans problems with Wnt signaling have been linked to numerous diseases, including cancer.
The team of scientists is working with $168,750 in funding received through Scialog: Molecules Come to Life, an initiative cosponsored by Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Scialog encourages early career scientists to form multidisciplinary teams to identify and tackle critical research challenges.
Hydra are only a few millimeters in length and shaped like a cylinder, with a foot on one end and a mouth surrounded by tentacles on the other. Hydra can regenerate after having been dissociated into groups of cells that reaggregate and then sort themselves out, to play specific roles in the developing organism. These cell aggregates regenerate into a functioning animal in less than a week, which makes hydra an ideal subject for studying Wnt signaling, the process by which the protein determines body shaping.
The researchers will focus on the interplay of Wnt and mechanical forces present during hydra regeneration. They hope to learn how Wnt behaves under normal developmental conditions. They will also study the protein’s behavior and the defects that may arise when the developing hydra is poked and prodded and subjected to genetic manipulations.