03/27/13 12:59 pm Age: 2 yrs

Amoeba Research Sheds Light on Cell Formation


By: Camlynne Waring

Biology Professor Looks for Answers

David Lindsey, professor of biology and department chair, works with undergraduate and graduate biology students researching Dictyostelium discoideum, or social amoebas, in order to better understand how development occurs in animals and humans. He recently returned from a three-week sabbatical at Texas A&M University, where he spent time further researching the amoebas and their development.

“I am interested in how cells receive and respond to the signals they receive from other cells, their environment, and internally, particularly during development,” says Lindsey. “Our research using this simple model will help elucidate the molecular pathways used by higher organisms to accomplish the same goals.”

Social amoebas are ideal models. they feed on bacteria in soil and decaying leaves in order to multiply. When these solitary cells are starved, they stop reproducing and form a collective mound. This mound cultivates into a fruiting body that comprises a mass of spore cells sustained by a column of stalk cells.

“At a cellular and molecular level, this process is very similar to tissue formation in humans and uses the same types of molecules and mechanisms,” says Lindsey.

This kind of research can have valuable implications on the future. Understanding how the amoebas develop and change can help researchers understand how stem cells stop growing and transition into different types of blood cells. In addition, defects in the transition process have been implicated in a range of human disorders, including tumor formation and neurodegenerative diseases. Perhaps by understanding these processes better, preventative medicine and treatment can be more effective.

Students also benefit from research by obtaining credible research experiences and then presenting their findings at conferences. Lindsey does his best to make sure students are prepared for their next phase of academic life.

“We do that in part by being professionally active and providing students with research opportunities that can develop their practical and intellectual skills, and give them an awareness of and confidence for the profes- sional world,” Lindsey says.

Though he has spent years guiding students in this research, Lindsey doesn’t envision stopping anytime soon.

“It really doesn’t end,” he says. “there is always the next question.” 

Published March 27, 2013 

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