The main focus of the C. elegans research group is to investigate the mechanistic relationship between cancer and ageing using the soil nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.
C. elegans is an excellent model system for ageing studies. More than 100 gene mutations have been shown to influence the nematode lifespan and a large fraction of these “Age genes” share identity with genes of known function in other species. We are particularly interested in the role of tumor suppressors and checkpoint proteins in the ageing process.
To prevent cancer, cells are equipped with surveillance systems that detect damage and stop cells from dividing. These surveillance systems are collectively called cellular checkpoints. We have made the discovery that inactivation of some checkpoint proteins can increase stress resistance and lifespan of C. elegans.
It is currently unknown how checkpoint proteins mechanistically determine lifespan. Therefore, to further our understanding of this phenomenon we completed a C. elegans whole genome RNAi screen for checkpoint defects which returned 50 genes that cause resistance to the chemo therapeutic drug hydroxyurea when inactivated. A detailed analysis of these genes will help us understand how checkpoints determine lifespan.
Importantly, by taking a comparative biology approach in our analysis we will be able to address how well these findings translate to higher organisms such as humans. Our group also uses C. elegans to study other age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.