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Stewart Gillmor

Genetics and Epigenetics of Seed Development

Stewart Gillmor

Genetics and Epigenetics of Seed Development

The development of all multicellular organisms begins with a single cell. This initial cell, which is often the product of a fertilization event between egg and sperm, divides to produce many daughter cells. These daughter cells adopt specialized cell fates in a process called pattern formation. Depending on their function within the organism, differentiated cells adopt unique morphologies and cellular and biochemical properties. Pattern formation has both spatial and temporal components: cells must differentiate in the correct place and at the correct time.

In our laboratory we study transcriptional regulation of early embryogenesis and development in Arabidopsis and maize. We use a combination of Genetics, Epigenetics, Genomics, and Cell Biology to study the following two topics in Developmental Biology:

1) Zygotic Genome Activation (ZGA) during early embryogenesis. Before fertilization, the male and female gametes are highly divergent, both in terms of transcription and epigenetic modifications of histones and DNA. At fertilization, the maternal and paternal genomes are united in the zygote. In order for embryo and seed development to proceed correctly, the transcriptional and epigenetic states of these previously separate genomes must be coordinated. How this coordination is achieved is one of the most exciting questions in developmental biology. In addition to its inherent interest for studies of development and gene regulation, research on ZGA is relevant for a better understanding of heterosis (hybrid vigor) in seed development.

2) Regulation of development by the Cyclin Dependent Kinase 8 (CDK8) module of Mediator. In Arabidopsis, the CDK8 module genes are called CCT/MED12, GCT/MED13, HEN3/CDK8, and CyclinC. We are especially interested in the role that these genes play in specification of cell identities during early embryogenesis and vegetative development. Recent work in the lab has demonstrated that GCT and CCT coordinate multiple developmental transitions during the Arabidopsis life cycle, in part by regulating the microRNA miR156, a master regulator of developmental timing, and one of the most ancient of all plant miRNAs. In mechanistic terms, we are interested in defining the target genes of the CDK8 module, and understanding the role of the CDK8 module in recruiting epigenetic marks at these genes.

We have a senior scientist, a visiting professor, five students, and an administrator working in the lab. Marcelina García-Aguilar (Senior Scientist, mgarcia@langebio.cinvestav.mx) studies epigenetic regulation of early embryo development. Alma Armenta-Medina (Visiting Professor, aarmenta@langebio.cinvestav.mx) is studying miRNAs involved in embryogenesis. Gerardo Del Toro De León (PhD Student, gdeltoro@langebio.cinvestav.mx) is looking at transcriptional regulation during zygotic genome activation. Daniel Lepe-Soltero (PhD Student in collaboration with Cei Abreu Goodger, dlepe@langebio.cinvestav.mx) is studying the effect of hybridization on zygotic genome activation. Manuel Buendía-Monreal (PhD student, mbuendia@langebio.cinvestav.mx) is characterizing CDK8 module regulation of miR156 and SPL genes during vegetative development. Danya Castro-Echeverría (Masters student, danya.castro@langebio.cinvestav.mx) is studying CDK8 module regulation of miR156 during embryogenesis. Laura Alonso-Nieves (Masters student in collaboration with Ruairidh Sawers, ana.alonso@langebio.cinvestav.mx) is studying ZmMed12a and ZmMed12b, the two CCT genes of maize. Jessica Carcaño-Macías (Laboratory Administrator, jcarcano@langebio.cinvestav.mx) keeps everything running! Stewart Gillmor (PI) focuses on washing coffee cups and keeping the espresso machine hopper full of beans (Medio Oscuro roast) from Café Tal in Guanajuato.

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