Metazoan animals contain a bewildering variety of cell types whose forms are highly specialized for their functions. Yet how cells adopt these diverse shapes and structures remains mysterious. We are exploring this fundamental question of cell biology using a simple cell type — epithelia— in a genetically manipulable organism —Drosophila. We have adapted targeted mosaic techniques to screen, in vivo and in an unbiased manner, for genes required for cells to assume the highly regular epithelial organization. Cloning and characterization of these genes will reveal the mechanisms that regulate general cellular elements, such as the cytoskeleton and protein trafficking systems, in order to confer specific cellular architectures. Since epithelial organization is compromised during the progression of mammalian malignant tumors, we also study how polarity disruption in the fly can promote the acquisition of cancer-like cellular properties.
Current research focuses on three questions:
1). How is the polarity of epithelial cells regulated?
2). How can misregulation of epithelial polarity led to tumorigenesis?
3). What molecules control the shape, organization, and movement of epithelial tissues?