Research focus

Ex Ovo Omnia – All from the Egg” (William Harvey, 1651)

Molecular Control of Zebrafish Oogenesis

 

Reproduction is a fundamental principle of all biological systems.  To produce a new individual, multicellular organisms use specific cells called gametes.  Female gametes form during oogenesis, which prepares the egg for fertilization and provides vital gene products for early embryogenesis.  Defects in oogenesis lead to sterility and are frequently the genetic cause of human developmental disorders such as Down syndrome.

Our goal is to understand the molecular regulation of oogenesis.  To investigate egg development in vertebrates, we take advantage of the molecular resources available in the zebrafish, Danio rerio.  Using zebrafish genetics, genomics and bioinformatics, we focus on the identification of key genes crucial for two molecular processes during oogenesis:

I)             The formation of germ plasm

II)            Vitellogenesis – the endocytosis of yolk protein

Currently, we are applying cell biological and biochemical approaches in combination with embryological methods to molecularly characterize the identified genes.  Through these methods we recently discovered the bucky ball gene, which represents the first gene in vertebrates inducing the assembly of germ plasm.  Germ plasm describes a specific cytoplasm in the oocyte, which controls the differentiation of gametes in the developing embryo.  The long-term aim is to provide important insights into the molecular mechanisms of oogenesis and how its failure leads to sterility and developmental defects.