The Zheng lab studies cell division including the study of stem cells, genome organization, and lineage specification. They study the mechanism of genome organization in development, homeostasis—metabolic balance-- and aging; and the influence of cell morphogenesis, or cell shape and steructure,  on cell fate decisions. They use a wide range of tools and systems, including genetics in model organisms, cell culture, biochemistry, proteomics, and genomics.

 

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Coral and legume roots. New staff scientists study symbiosis in these systems.
August 19, 2020

Baltimore, MD— Carnegie’s Department of Embryology welcomes two new Staff Scientists, both of whom specialize in researching the symbiotic relationships between species.

Brittany Belin joined Carnegie this month from Caltech and Phillip Cleves will arrive in September from Stanford University. Although their work approaches the issue using different organisms, their investigations are important to understanding survival mechanisms in the increasingly stressful conditions caused by climate change.

Belin’s postdoctoral research focused on soil bacteria called rhizobia, which form symbiotic relationships with legumes such as soybeans and alfalfa. The microbes

Experimental zebrafish larvae, courtesy Navid Marvi.
August 7, 2020

Baltimore, MD—New work led by Carnegie’s Meredith Wilson and Steve Farber identifies a potential therapeutic target for clogged arteries and other health risks that stem from an excess of harmful fats in the bloodstream.  Their findings are published by PLOS Genetics. 

“Cardiovascular disease occurs when lipids from the blood plasma are deposited in the walls of blood vessels, ultimately restricting blood flow,” explained Farber, who specializes in elucidating how cells process lipids. “This complex disease affects about a third of the world’s population, so improving our understanding of the mechanisms that regulate the levels of

Xenia in Carnegie's coral facility, courtesy Carnegie Embryology
June 17, 2020

Baltimore, MD— New work from a team of Carnegie cell, genomic, and developmental biologists solves a longstanding marine science mystery that could aid coral conservation. The researchers identified the type of cell that enables a soft coral to recognize and take up the photosynthetic algae with which it maintains a symbiotic relationship, as well as the genes responsible for this transaction.

Their breakthrough research is published in Nature.

Corals are marine invertebrates that build large exoskeletons from which reefs are constructed. But this architecture is only possible because of a mutually beneficial relationship between the coral and various species of

Yixian Zheng
March 11, 2020

Baltimore, MD— Carnegie’s Director of Embryology Yixian Zheng is one of 15 scientists awarded a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to support research on symbiosis in aquatic systems.

For the past two years, Zheng and her colleagues have been working to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of endosymbiosis in the relationships between coral and jellyfish and the photosynthetic algal species that they host. She has been building on Carnegie’s longstanding tradition of model organism development to begin revealing the genetics underlying the uptake and sustenance of symbiotic dinoflagellates by the soft coral species Xenia.

“I have always

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The Spradling laboratory studies the biology of reproduction. By unknown means eggs reset the normally irreversible processes of differentiation and aging. The fruit fly Drosophila provides a favorable multicellular system for molecular genetic studies. The lab focuses on several aspects of egg development, called oogenesis, which promises to provide insight into the rejuvenation of the nucleus and surrounding cytoplasm. By studying ovarian stem cells, they are learning how cells maintain an undifferentiated state and how cell production is regulated by microenvironments known as niches. They are  also re-investigating the role of steroid and prostaglandin hormones in controlling

The Marnie Halpern laboratory studies how left-right differences arise in the developing brain and discovers the genes that control this asymmetry. Using the tiny zebrafish, Danio rerio, they explores how regional specializations occur within the neural tube, the embryonic tissue that develops into the brain and spinal cord.

The zebrafish is ideal for these studies because its basic body plan is set within 24 hours of fertilization. By day five, young larvae are able to feed and swim, and within three months they are ready to reproduce. They are also prolific breeders. Most importantly the embryos are transparent, allowing scientists to watch the nervous system develop and to

The Gall laboratory studies all aspects of the cell nucleus, particularly the structure of chromosomes, the transcription and processing of RNA, and the role of bodies inside the cell nucleus, especially the Cajal body (CB) and the histone locus body (HLB).

Much of the work makes use of the giant oocyte of amphibians and the equally giant nucleus or germinal vesicle (GV) found in it. He is particularly  interested in how the structure of the nucleus is related to the synthesis and processing of RNA—specifically, what changes occur in the chromosomes and other nuclear components when RNA is synthesized, processed, and transported to the cytoplasm.

In mammals, most lipids, such as fatty acids and cholesterol, are absorbed into the body via the small intestine. The complexity of the cells and fluids that inhabit this organ make it very difficult to study in a laboratory setting. The goal of the Farber lab is to better understand the cell and molecular biology of lipids within digestive organs by exploiting the many unique attributes of the clear zebrafish larva  to visualize lipid uptake and processing in real time.  Given their utmost necessity for proper cellular function, it is not surprising that defects in lipid metabolism underlie a number of human diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and atherosclerosis.

Johanna Teske became the first new staff member to join Carnegie’s newly named Earth and Planets Laboratory (EPL) in Washington, D.C., on September 1, 2020. She has been a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, CA, since 2018. From 2014 to 2017 she was the Carnegie Origins Postdoctoral Fellow—a joint position between Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (now part of EPL) and the Carnegie Observatories.

Teske is interested in the diversity in exoplanet compositions and the origins of that diversity. She uses observations to estimate exoplanet interior and atmospheric compositions, and the chemical environments of their formation

Phillip Cleves’ Ph.D. research was on determining the genetic changes that drive morphological evolution. He used the emerging model organism, the stickleback fish, to map genetic changes that control skeletal evolution. Using new genetic mapping and reverse genetic tools developed during his Ph.D., Cleves identified regulatory changes in a protein called bone morphogenetic protein 6 that were responsible for an evolved increase in tooth number in stickleback. This work illustrated how molecular changes can generate morphological novelty in vertebrates.

Cleves returned to his passion for coral research in his postdoctoral work in John Pringles’ lab at Stanford

Brittany Belin joined the Department of Embryology staff in August 2020. Her Ph.D. research involved developing new tools for in vivo imaging of actin in cell nuclei. Actin is a major structural element in eukaryotic cells—cells with a nucleus and organelles —forming contractile polymers that drive muscle contraction, the migration of immune cells to  infection sites, and the movement of signals from one part of a cell to another. Using the tools developed in her Ph.D., Belin discovered a new role for actin in aiding the repair of DNA breaks in human cells caused by carcinogens, UV light, and other mutagens.

Belin changed course for her postdoctoral work, in

Evolutionary geneticist Moises Exposito-Alonso joined the Department of Plant Biology as a staff associate in September 2019. He investigates whether and how plants will evolve to keep pace with climate change by conducting large-scale ecological and genome sequencing experiments. He also develops computational methods to derive fundamental principles of evolution, such as how fast natural populations acquire new mutations and how past climates shaped continental-scale biodiversity patterns. His goal is to use these first principles and computational approaches to forecast evolutionary outcomes of populations under climate change to anticipate potential future