| The aim of my research is to understand how cells acquire definitive fates during development. As a model, I use molecular genetics in the zebrafish (Danio rerio) to investigate the molecular patterning of the lateral mesoderm and its development into its descendant organs, with primary focus on cardiovascular and hematopoietic cell formation.
In vertebrates, the organ precursors for the heart, blood, endothelium, kidney, and limbs arise in close proximity from distinct territories within the lateral mesoderm at the periphery of the embryo. The principles driving the lateral mesoderm into its dramatically different cell fates must be of ancient evolutionary origin. The molecular mechanisms that divide lateral territories along the embryonic axis into their different organ cell fates remain nonetheless poorly understood. More in-depth knowledge about the mechanisms of cell fate control is critical to therapeutic drug discovery and will decisively improve the targeted manipulation of embryonic stem (ES) or induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells into sought-after regenerative cell types, a key challenge in the field.
My experiments apply spatio-temporally controlled lineage tracing and genetic perturbations via Tamoxifen-inducible Cre/lox transgenics to elucidate the autonomous roles played by signal transduction pathways in cardiovascular and hematopoietic precursor cell formation. Parallel approaches, using transcriptome analysis and functional studies of novel candidate genes, aim at identifying novel molecular components in lateral mesoderm patterning and at isolating gene regulatory elements active in lateral mesoderm and its descendant cell lineages.