Optogenetic techniques in the study of meiotic drive

Emily presenting research




Associate Professor of Biology and Graduate Chair in Biology

Project Summary

I have studied meiotic drive in Professor Michael Lampson’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania for the past three years. Meiotic drive describes the biased segregation of homologous chromosomes in female meiosis - a direct violation of Mendel’s law of segregation. By biasing their transmission to the egg (as opposed to being degraded in the polar body), selfish elements exploit asymmetric mouse oocyte division and increase the likelihood that they will be passed on to the next generation. Our work has provided the first explanation of the molecular mechanisms of meiotic drive and has also lead to the discovery of asymmetry within the meiotic spindle – a result published in the November 2017 issue of Science magazine (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/358/6363/668).

Most recently, I have been using a combination of optogenetic techniques and methods from molecular biology to further our model for meiotic drive.  By using a precise laser and a chemical dimerizer built in collaboration with the Chenoweth group, I recruit microtubule destabilizing proteins to individual mouse centromeres. When refined, this method could be used to induce the biased chromosome segregation that we have previously observed in our mouse model, thereby selecting the chromosomes that end up in the egg. While traditional genome editing tools focus on inserting sequences, silencing, or activating DNA, modifying the natural process of meiotic drive could serve as a less controversial alternative for reducing the likelihood of genetically inherited disease.

Research has been central to my educational experience at Penn and I am thoroughly grateful for the support of the College Alumni Society Grant as well as the Vagelos MLS program. The mentorship that I have received form Professor Lampson and Takashi Akera, the postdoc with whom I work most closely, has been invaluable to my development both as a student and a future scientist.