Cell-to-cell variation is an important property of cell populations that has implications for the understanding of embryonic development, the immune system, the sense of smell, and many other normal and abnormal processes. The role of cell-to-cell variability in these processes is currently not well understood, and in this project the activity of an important signaling protein will be measured in individual cells of a single-celled, but social, organism. This will provide, cell-by-cell, the resolution needed to understand in this system the significance of cell variability. Undergraduate students will have an opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary research involving biochemistry, microfluidics, computer simulations and the development of new analytical tools.
Cyclic AMP (cAMP) is a signal (acting through Protein Kinase B, PKB) that induces cell aggregation and the onset of the social phase of the life cycle of the amoeba, Dictyostelium discoideum. Microfluidic single-cell assays of PKB will be carried out on single cells of Dictyostelium, enabling quantitative measurement of variability and a greater understanding of the significance of this variability as the organism responds to signaling with cAMP.