Investigating how cellular metabolism regulates developmental signaling pathways

Developing organisms must integrate cues from the environment (nutrients, environmental stresses, etc.) with genetically encoded developmental signaling pathways. For example, in yeast, nitrogen and glucose deprivation induces sporulation and meiosis. In contrast, in the worm C.elegans, nutrient deprivation during development induces an alternative developmental program called dauer that protects the animal under harsh conditions. However, the regulation of developmental processes by specific metabolic mechanisms remains unclear in many systems.

Using a combination of Drosophila genetics and mammalian cell culture we have found that specific lipid metabolites and metabolic pathways can greatly influence the activity of developmental signaling pathways in both flies and mammalian tissue. These metabolic effects on developmental signaling pathways can influence many aspects of development ranging from cell fate decisions to progression through developmental checkpoints. We’re currently studying how lipid metabolites can directly influence cell fate decisions through regulation of developmental signaling pathways and whether this is a conserved aspect of tissue development in many species.