Ground-breaking study reveals how organelles are distributed

Research led by Professor Gero Steinberg has provided novel insight into how cells organise themselves.

Breakthrough in our understanding of organelle interactions

Close interaction of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) with peroxisomes (PO) in cultured cells, shown by electron microscopy.

Cell and Molecular Biology and Development

Our research focus

Research in the Cell & Molecular Biology and Development theme aims at revealing fundamental molecular mechanisms to provide novel insights into cellular processes and functions, cell communication, the development of organisms, their interaction with pathogens, and the molecular basis and pathophysiology of diseases. Key research areas are the organisation of the cytoskeleton, organelle motility & motor proteins, organelle biogenesis & communication, cell polarity & shape, membrane trafficking & remodelling, mitosis & cell division, formation of cilia & flagella, genome organisation, DNA/RNA synthesis & gene expression, chromatin integrity & DNA damage response, generation of immune diversity, cell signalling processes, neuroscience & neuronal circuits, embryo development & environmental impacts, immune responses in plants, pathogen defences & fungal plant pathogenicity.

Our research combines different models including yeast, fungi, plants, marine worms, flies, fish and mammalian cells. We apply multi-disciplinary approaches including molecular cell biology, cell and developmental biology, proteomics, genetics/epigenetics, mathematical modelling & computational biology, systems biology, and biophysics.

Our research is supported by the Bioimaging Centre, the Exeter Sequencing Service, the Mass Spectrometry Facility and the Aquatic Resources Centre.

Recent research highlights

Visualizing the subcellular dynamics deep within living systems.

Visualization of cellular processes deep within tissues is an extreme challenge for modern microscopy. A research team including Steffen Scholpp, led by Nobel laureate and Janelia group leader Eric Betzig, has developed and validated a revolutionary imaging system that utilizes adaptive optics (the same technology used by astronomers) and lattice light sheet microscopy to provide high-resolution 3D movies of subcellular dynamics, including cancer cells crawling, spinal nerve circuits wiring up, and immune cells cruising through a zebrafish’s inner ear.

Liu TL et al. (2018). Science 360(6386). | View the movies here.

New insight into the localization of tail-anchored proteins

Tail-anchored (TA) proteins are targeted to organelle membranes, where they mediate critical cellular processes. While the correct targeting of TA protein to appropriate membranes is critical, the mechanisms and signals involved are not fully understood. A study led by Michael Schrader has provided unique insight into this process, identifying characteristic physicochemical features of TA proteins that allows prediction of their subcellular localization using a machine-learning approach.

Costello J et al. (2017). J. Cell Sci. 130(9):1675-1687. | Read more here.

Insight into the telomere biology of Drosophila

A collaboration between James Wakefield and researchers in Italy has characterized the role of the Moi and Ver components of the terminin complex in Drosophila that is responsible for the protection of telomeres. These studies highlighted striking similarities between telomeres in Drosophila and humans, validating Drosophila as an excellent model system for studies on telomere organization and function.

Cicconi A et al. (2017). Nucleic Acids Res. 45(6):3068-3085.

Zebrafish model paves the way for new understanding of human myopathies

Loss-of-function mutations in the MYO18B gene, which encodes an unconventional myosin, have previously been identified in several patients exhibiting symptoms of myopathy, a disease affecting the function of muscle fibres. In an international collaboration led by Phil Ingham, a zebrafish model has been used to provide the first definitive evidence of a role for this unconventional myosin in skeletal muscle development and sarcomere assembly.

Gurung R et al. (2017). Genetics. 205(2):725-735.