Germ cell immortality and totipotency in C. elegans

  • 11/21/2013 | 4:00 PM – 4:55 PM
  • Location: Druckenmiller Hall, Room 020
  • Event Type: Seminar

Germ cell immortality and totipotency in C. elegansC. elegans P granules: a genetic model for understanding cellular immortality and totipotency in the germ line

No individual organism lives forever, but its genes and traits may be passed along from generation to generation thanks to its germ cells. Germ cells are the progenitors of sperm and eggs, and the ability of any species to perpetuate itself depends on the ability of its germ cells to give rise to all the cells of each subsequent generation. That ability – the capacity of a cell to become, by dividing and differentiating, any and all parts of a given organism, including the next generation of germ cells – is called “totipotency.” It’s an extraordinary property that essentially confers immortality on germ cells. 

What makes germ cells totipotent? My lab studies small aggregates called “germ granules” that are found just outside the nucleus of germ cells. Recent research has shown that germ granules play a critical role in maintaining the totipotent and immortal properties of the germ cell line. 

Our lab uses the small roundworm C. elegans as a genetic model to understand germ granule function across species. Using these worms, we are able to determine the genetic components responsible for germ granule assembly and localization, their biophysical properties, and how they function in germ cells. Because germ granules play a role in cellular self-renewal and pluripotency, germ granule research not only impacts the field of reproductive biology, but will also add a new dimension to ongoing efforts in the field of regenerative medicine.