Banerjee, who chairs UCLA's Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology, will create a "fundamentally different research environment for a significant number of undergraduates at UCLA," he said. As an HHMI Professor, he will bring undergraduates to work in large laboratory courses in close cooperation with his lab, where his team studies the nature of cell-cell communication in Drosophila, the fruit fly. The Drosophila eye is a "premier genetic system for studying many cellular and developmental processes," said Banerjee, who added that a database of eye mutations would be an "extremely valuable resource."
"How does one cell talk to another, and how does it lead a cell to take on a certain fate?" Banerjee asks. "How does it know what it is to become? Cells must have some way of deciding who is going to do what. In order for them to take on a specific fate, they must rely on signals they get from their neighbors. Those signals have a molecular basis."
All of the fruit fly's genes are known, and its two-week reproduction cycle makes it easy to produce large numbers of flies very quickly. However, not all of its gene functions are known.
Banerjee's undergraduate students will create mutant flies, removing one gene at a time in the developing eye or the blood. They will do this for a large number of genes. Students will learn the functions of genes and how different gene functions relate to one another. Each student will map mutations and will learn molecular mapping techniques.
"UCLA undergraduates will produce publishable results with implications for human gene function and disorder," he said. "At the end of four years, a near sat
Contact: Stuart Wolpert
University of California - Los Angeles