Randi Wheatley
Advisor: Pat Estes
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Elon University 2004-2006 Majoring in Biology UNC- Chapel Hill 2006-2008 B.S. in Biology with a Chemistry minor
Academic and/or Research Interests
In joining the lab initially as a Master's student I started working on an existing project in the lab. The Drosophila central nervous system midline is a relatively simple lineage that can be used to understand how genes dictate neural and glial cell fates. The mature embryo contains approximately 22 neurons and glia per central nervous system segment and the expression of over 300 known genes within the various cell types can be utilized to follow these cells. A genetic screen in our lab led to the identification of mastermind as a factor that controls midline development. While mutations in mastermind affect midline neurons similar to mutations in Notch, their affect on midline glia differs. In wild type embryos about half the anterior midline glia and all of the posterior midline glia undergo apoptosis in late embryonic stages; however, extra anterior midline glia survive in mastermind mutants while the posterior midline glia undergo apoptosis earlier. Our data suggests mastermind functions as an integral component of the canonical Notch signaling pathway in directing asymmetric cell divisions of neurons while glia development requires Notch and may function independently of mastermind. Outside the midline, mastermind mutants produce excess neural tissue and the data indicate that Notch and the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor may function together to control the number of midline glia that form and survive. Roles of Notch and mastermind in the Drosophila midline are similar to those in more complex systems and can be harnessed to understand how new neurons and glia can be regenerated in tissue that has experienced trauma either due to injury or the aging process. In becoming a PhD student in the Spring of 2011 I began working on a new project. Many genes that control CNS development are highly conserved in vertebrate and invertebrate species. Between insects, the overall organization and structure of the CNS is also highly conserved. Within this highly conserved structure lies the median neuroblast (MNB) lineage of the CNS midline with two unique characteristics: 1) the ability to divide throughout embryogenesis and larval stages and 2) variation in cell number both between insect species and between body segments within the same species. The MNB produces both GABAergic and octopaminergic neurons, however, their functions remain largely unknown. Our goal is the utilize genetic tools available in Drosophila to investigate these unique aspects of the MNB lineage and determine their functions. Previous studies indicate that the grasshopper contains a much greater number of neurons derived from the MNB compared to Drosophila melanogaster. Therefore, we will also examine other fly species to determine if the development of this MNB lineage is conserved within this order of insects
Publications & Presentations
Mastermind Mutations Generate a Unique Constellation of Midline Cells within the Drosophila CNS http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0026197


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