Oliver Hobert studies molecular mechanisms that control the generation of the enormous diversity of cell types in the nervous system. Using Caenorhabditis elegans as a model system, his laboratory decodes genomic cis-regulatory information of gene batteries expressed in specific neuronal cell types and identifies trans-acting factors that act at various stages of neuronal development to impose specific terminal differentiation programs onto individual neuron types.
Identifying Genes Required for Brain Development
The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is a simple invertebrate model system that allows us to study nervous system development. We have generated a number of transgenic C. elegans strains in which specific subsets of neurons are labeled with a green fluorescent protein (GFP) marker. One key advantage of C. elegans is its amenability to mutant screens. In such screens, one mutagenizes animals and identifies mutant worms that are unable to correctly express the GFP-tagged neuronal fate marker—suggesting that one has "hit" a gene required for neuronal development.
In this summer project, up to two undergraduate students will work with one or two postdoctoral fellows to conduct such "mutant hunts." This project will provide insights into how brain development is programmed into our genes.
We will also hunt for genes that may be involved in neurodegeneration—that is, we seek mutants in which neurons degenerate during adult life, thereby modeling neurodegenerative diseases, such as motor neuron diseases. Identifying such genes in worms may not only reveal potential disease gene candidates but also provide the opportunity to understand exactly how they work.
Participation in the project does not require much previous experience, just a keen, observant, and curious mind. The student will learn how to "think genetically"; how to use some basic molecular techniques; how to look at the nervous system of a live, behaving animal; and how to work in a research team. See our lab page for more details.