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Juan Dong: Asymmetrical Division Revealed

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Recommended by: Joachim Messing, Rutgers University

To make new cells, established cells have to undergo asymmetric cell division. They divide unequally, and a new cell is then created. In animal systems, this occurs in stem cells, but it is also important for stomata development in Arabidopsis. Juan Dong at Rutgers University aims to understand the mechanism behind asymmetrical cell division in plants.

Dong began this project while a postdoc in Dominique Bergmann's lab at Stanford University. There, she and her colleagues uncovered a protein that is polarized in Arabidopsis cells, and is involved in asymmetric cell division. It's conceptually similar, Dong says, to what occurs in animal cells, but plant-specific. "This is quite exciting that we found a few polarizing proteins," she says.

Publication of note

Dong and her colleagues published a paper in Cell in 2009 reporting that the BASL gene localizes to the cell periphery before asymmetrical cell occurs in stomatal cells. "It regulates plant asymmetric cell division by polarizing a localization pattern," Dong adds.

Looking ahead

That plant-specificity is one area that Dong would like to pursue: Did plants evolve a unique way to divide asymmetrically? she asks. Furthermore, she is interested in determining the mechanism behind the polarization of the protein throughout the cell, and whether or not that mechanism is similar to what animal cells use. "We are also very interested in figuring out the differences or the common theme behind this," she says.

One technological improvement that Dong says would speed up her work would be in live cell imaging for plants so that she can follow how proteins move over a long period of time in specific cell or tissue types. "We don't really have very powerful tools to examine how proteins move in a relatively long time, like spanning a week, to correlate their function in cells and along development," she says.

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