For centuries scientists have been pondering and exploring how one symmetric cell can divide, differentiate and eventually develop into a highly organised and functioning organism. During early development, when an egg or embryo is first being organised, many signals are expressed in a highly controlled manner. One common way an egg (or any cell) can control signal production is through the regulation of RNA — the intermediate between genetic information stored in DNA and proteins (or signals) that carry out functions in the cell.
Of the many key steps required in this amazing process of animal development, my lab is especially interested in localised translation of RNA and egg activation. To further understand these two key steps, we use the fruit fly (Drosophila) as a model system. Nowhere is localised translation of RNA more apparent than in the patterning of the fruit fly body axis, where loss of control of translation leads to dramatic mutant phenotypes. Failure to control localised translation is implicated in a number of human diseases, including Fragile X Syndrome, schizophrenia, spinal muscular atrophy and cancer.
Egg activation is an equally important step for animal development. This universal event results in key cellular changes, including localised translation, that lead to embryogenesis. Since many of the factors we are testing in fruit flies are conserved in vertebrates and mammals, our work has important implications beyond insect biology and will help to inform future human medical treatments.