The properties and evolution of phosphoregulatory networks

The diversity of life forms that exists today is derived from a common ancestor. This common ancestor had a prototypic cell cycle control network (the program that orchestrates cell division). This control network has changed extensively during evolution to adapt to the needs of myriad modern organisms. Single celled organisms tend to divide as quickly as possible.

Their control networks optimize growth rate in a changing environment. Multicellular organisms, including humans, have added a huge amount of spatial control and cell-cell communication to enable the development and maintenance of complex body patterns and organ structures.

When these control networks break down, we get cancer (an evolutionary disease where our cells evolve back towards the prototypic state). We aim to understand how control networks rewire during evolution. We study this problem with a variety of approaches:

The properties and evolution of phosphoregulatory networks

i. Resurrection of ancestral kinases to understand their evolution

ii. Synthetic biology approaches to understand general principles of regulation

iii. Investigations into the dynamical properties of signaling pathways

Low complexity sequences and the control of diffusion

Cell division kinases including Cdk1 predominantly phosphorylate their targets in disordered loops and termini of proteins. These disordered regions account for more than half of the coding sequence of Eukaryotic cells, yet their function remains poorly understood. We are also investigating the disordered and low-complexity proteome: its role in organizing the cytoplasm and possible role in the collapse of proteostasis during aging.

i. What are the normal biological functions of low complexity amino acid sequences including poly-glutamines?

ii. A genetically encoded nanoparticle to elucidate the regulation of subcellular diffusion