The goal of my research is to identify and characterize general mechanisms of pattern formation that are not dependent on multicellularity. This aim is being pursued through analyses of the spatial organization of cell surface structures in a ciliated protozoan, Tetrahymena.
We had been pursuing this aim primarily through a genetic approach, seeking to induce and analyze mutations that affect the arrangement and organization of cell-surface structures. Our attention has been concentrated on mutations that affect the global spatial coordination of these structures. These mutations include a class, collectively known as a janus, that converts the dorsal surface of the cell into a partial mirror image of the ventral surface, and hypoangular, which reduces the distance between two sets of structures normally far apart. We have also discovered that wild-type cells can propagate mirror-image configurations of major cortical landmarks, which we call "right-handed" (RH) and "left-handed" (LH) respectively.
I recently have been moving toward molecular biological approaches to patterning in ciliates. Most recently, in collaboration with Prof. Norman E. Williams, I have helped to characterize the phenotype of transformed cells containing "disruption cassettes" for genes encoding important cytoskeletal components, such as actin. I am also involved in collaborations with colleagues at other universities on problems of ciliate development and evolution.
In the future, I hope to return to the cortical-pattern mutations, completing the description of the phenotype of unpublished mutations in my collection and proceeding toward cloning some of these genes as the technology becomes available.