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High resolution microscope image of biomolecular condensates

Exploring the formation and function of biomolecular condensates in early development

Supervisor: Dr Tim Weil

Biomolecular condensates are membrane-less structures composed of proteins and RNAs. Often termed “bodies” or “granules", these cellular compartments function as reaction crucibles and sub-cellular organisational hubs. In early animal development, many condensates have been shown to be essential including: P granules in C. elegans; Processing bodies (P bodies) in Drosophila; the mitochondrial cloud in Xenopus; and Balbiani bodies in zebrafish.

Recently, we have shown that P bodies in the mature Drosophila egg are primarily regulated by structurally distinct proteins and weak multivalent interactions. In vivo, P body integrity is controlled through an arrested physical state which is critical for the storage of mRNAs.

This project aims to further our understanding of in vivo P bodies by exploring their formation, maintenance and dynamics. We will use genetic tools to alter the expression levels of key P body proteins and subsequent advanced microscopy and biochemistry to assess the impact of manipulation on P body form and function.

Granule regulation by phase separation during Drosophila oogenesis. Sankaranarayanan M. and Weil T.T. Emerging Topics in Life Sciences, 2020 ETLS20190155.

Liquid phase condensation in cell physiology and disease. Shin Y and Bragwynne CP Science. 2017 Sep 22;357(6357). doi: 10.1126/science.aaf4382.