The LMB is delighted to announce the recent arrival of two new group leaders: Rebecca Taylor and Wanda Kukulski.
Rebecca has joined the LMB’s Neurobiology Division, and is researching the systemic control of proteostasis and ageing. The ageing process is accompanied by a cellular accumulation of misfolded proteins. These misfolded proteins lead to the onset of many diseases associated with old age, including neurodegenerative and metabolic disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes.
Rebecca’s group is looking at one of the possible factors that causes the accumulation of misfolded proteins: the decline in protective cellular stress responses. Focusing on the endoplasmic reticulum stress response (UPRER), the group is studying why this decline occurs and how it leads to neurodegenerative disease. They are also looking at how neurons detect stress and the means by which stress responses are communicated between cells. Rebecca’s work, during her postdoctoral research, has already shown that a novel pathway allows UPRER activation to be coordinated between tissues, a finding with major implications for the study of stress responses and ageing. Knowing more about the mechanisms behind these processes may eventually provide remedies to improve health and treat disease.
Rebecca added, “neurodegenerative diseases are an increasingly urgent problem in society, and addressing them through understanding the fundamental mechanisms of ageing and its regulation by neuronal signaling offers us the possibility to develop new types of therapies. It’s an ambitious goal, but the LMB is a great place to do this kind of work, and I’m very excited to be joining the scientific community here.”
Rebecca studied zoology at the University of Cambridge, before undertaking a PhD in genetics at Trinity College, Dublin. She then joined the Salk Institute in La Jolla, and the University of California, Berkeley as a postdoctoral research associate, before joining the LMB.
Wanda has joined the LMB’s Cell Biology Division. Her research is aimed at understanding membrane function, dynamics and architecture. Eukaryotic cells use membranes to organise their numerous intracellular processes. These membranes are not just inert barriers, they are compositionally and morphologically dynamic, and their shape and topology are intimately tied to organelle function. Essential processes such as endocytosis, intracellular transport, and communication at organelle contact sites are all dependent on properly regulating membrane architecture. Defects in membrane morphology of different organelles have been linked to various human diseases.
Wanda’s group is currently focusing on the membrane dynamics that control cargo traffic through the network of endosomes, and the role of membrane architecture at contact sites between two organelles. Endosomal sorting is critical for signalling and nutrient uptake, as well as for regulating the composition of the plasma membrane, but it is also hijacked by pathogens for cell entry. Organelle contact sites are important for communication and exchange of molecules such as lipids and calcium. The aim of the research is to provide a mechanistic understanding of how membrane architecture intersects with cellular processes involving inter-membrane communication and transport. During her previous work, Wanda has developed cutting edge methodologies, such as correlative microscopy, and brings expertise in these processes to her research at the LMB.
Wanda said, “I am fascinated by the diversity of tasks carried out by cellular membranes, as well as by the variety of architectures that membranes adopt. Understanding how the organisation of membranes contributes to cellular functions is challenging because it requires applying novel structural cell biology methods. The interactive and interdisciplinary environment of the LMB is perfect to implement such approaches and at the same time remain focused on the biological questions.”
Wanda studied biology at the University of Basel, Switzerland, before undertaking a PhD in biophysics at Basel. She stayed at Basel, at the M. E. Müller Institute, Biozentrum, for her first postdoctoral position before moving to EMBL Heidelberg and subsequently the LMB.