- Ph.D., Emory University School of Medicine 2009
- B.S., Grove City College 2003
Intellectual disability (more commonly referred to as mental retardation) is one of the most debilitating and costly diseases in Western developed countries. Intellectually disabled patients typically have IQ scores below 70 and are often unable to understand new or complex information. Ongoing work has identified mutations in several genes that are associated with intellectual disability. Recent projects in the lab have revolved around one of these newly identified genes that is mutated in a heritable form of intellectual disability, called ZC3H14. Understanding how genes such as ZC3H14 affect brain development and function will provide a more comprehensive understanding of the molecular basis for neurological diseases such as intellectual disability.
Using Drosophila melanogaster (the fruit fly), we have begun to investigate the function of the “fly ZC3H14” gene (called Nab2 in flies), in nervous system development and function. Both human ZC3H14 and fly Nab2 bind to RNA and in so doing appear to regulate gene expression.
While it may seem counterintuitive to study neuroscience or diseases like intellectual disability in fruit flies (the first thing many people ask me is if they even have brains?), many of the genes important for nervous system development in humans perform similar functions in the fruit fly, albeit on a much smaller scale. In fact, Drosophila has been used for several decades to answer all kinds of fascinating questions related to neurobiology, including learning and memory, circadian rhythms, nervous system development, axonal pathfinding…and many more.
Our lab uses Drosophila genetics in combination with molecular biology and neuroscience-focused approaches to investigate the following three questions:
- What is the role of RNA binding proteins (specifically poly(A) RNA binding proteins, such as ZC3H14 and Nab2) in neuronal development and disease?
- What proteins are required in the adult Drosophila brain for axonal pathfinding during development?
- How is the length of the poly(A) tail regulated in neurons?
Students that decide to work on these (or other projects) in my lab can expect to learn a ton about Drosophila genetics, RNA biology, neuroscience, molecular biology, microscopy, and many other topics.
- BIOL 111: Foundations of Biology
- BIOL 307: Developmental
- BIOL 201: Gateway to Molecular and Cellular Biology
- BIOL 380: Cellular Neuroscience