When a single fertilized cell develops into an intricately patterned organism with multiple organs (such as the heart and liver), those organs grow to predetermined sizes; when problems occur that cause injury, growth retardation, or increased growth, organs still reach and then stop at their predetermined sizes. This is because of a process called the "organ size checkpoint". Despite years of study, how the organ size checkpoint works remains an important, fundamental question in biology. Utilizing the powerful genetic system of the fruit fly, several research teams discovered that a group of genes called the Hippo pathway work together as a "foreperson" or "overseer" of the organ size checkpoint. The Hippo pathway coordinates when cells in an organ grow, divide, or die by delegating other genes to carry out these tasks by turning these other genes on or off. The proposed studies will use cultured cells, biochemistry, and fruit fly genetics to identify these important other genes controlled by the Hippo pathway. Identifying these genes will advance our understanding of the fundamental regulation of cell division, cell growth, and cell death during development and will shed tremendous light on how organs grow to and are maintained at the appropriate size.
The project will provide high school, undergraduate, and graduate students with experiences catered to their diverse backgrounds and experience levels: younger students will learn to work and think independently while collaborating with advanced students who engage in detailed, hypothesis-driven experiments. Working and communicating as a team will give younger students a valuable foundation for a career in science and will help graduate students develop mentoring skills; therefore, this work will have a broader impact of training young scientists and instilling leadership skills they need to drive the next generation of scientific breakthroughs.