To answer these and other questions, the Updike Lab derives cues from quintessential stem cells found in the germline. Germline stem cells (GSCs) are the precursors to oocytes and sperm, and these cells must retain their stem cell attributes so that fertilized embryos can give rise to all of the cell types of each subsequent generation.
To achieve this immortal potential, germ cells survey gene expression activity through unique structures in the cell’s cytoplasm called germ granules. Germ granules use small RNA machinery to read cellular messages and determine whether they are licensed for expression, shutting down aberrant messages whose expression could result in the loss of pluripotency. While germ granules are specific to the germline, they are found in animals from worms to humans. The Updike Lab studies germ-granule function in C. elegans nematodes, where they are readily accessible and visible at all stages of development. This work will impact our understanding of germ-granule function and human fertility and the role of the cell’s cytoplasm in wound healing, regeneration, and tumorigenesis.