Diana Laird, PhD
Germ cells have the unique property of being dispensable for survival of the individual yet essential for the species. The germline is established during early development as a small population of primordial germ cells that give rise to the adult gametes following sex differentiation during late fetal life. This segregation from somatic lineages for all but the very first cell divisions in the embryo places an evolutionary premium on the germline. Study of the fetal germline provides a window into the fundamental mechanisms of pluripotency as well as cell fate decisions, migration, and natural selection. In further, the roots of conditions such as infertility and chromosomal abnormalities can be found in fetal germ cell development. We are using mouse models in the following areas:
- Primordial germ cell migration: How and why do germ cells migrate? Is migration perfunctory, or does it serve as a filter for fitness? We are studying the role of the non-canonical Wnt pathway in primordial germ cell migration as well as interrogating the role of the niche.
- Clonal dynamics of germ cell development: Do all primordial germ cells contribute equally to the pool of gametes? How does migration as well as the developmentally programmed wave of apoptosis affect the clonal composition of the germline? We are using genetic lineage tracing and mouse mutants to understand the basis of germ cell selection and elimination during development.
- Environmental influences on germ cell development: Do germ cells carry memories of their environment to the next generation? Studies in animals suggest that nutritional information or chemical exposures during development can wield transgenerational changes through epigenetic mechanisms. We are studying the effects of common plasticizing agents on fetal germ cell development and epigenetic reprogramming.
- Quantitative imaging and mathematical modeling: We develop methods for imaging whole organs, embryos and cells. Our research increasingly calls for more sophisticated algorithms for quantifying structures, tissue organization and phenotypes.