Control of embryonic development: Using studies on frog embryos to understand congenital birth defects in humans.
The early embryos of the frog Xenopus are well suited for a variety of developmental studies, including those on cardiovascular and ear development. Their large fertilized eggs makes the introduction of molecules by microinjection straightforward. Also, because Xenopus has a long history of use for developmental studies, the normal pattern of tissue differentiation has been well mapped.
We are currently looking at genes that cause congenital defects in human heart and ear development. The function of these genes, used both by frog and humans, can be studied in detail by looking at their effect on the formation of hearts and ears during the rapid ( one week) development of tadpoles. We use methods including mRNA injection to promote production of specific proteins, inhibitory oligonucleotides to prevent protein expression and transgenesis to understand control of gene expression.
Minimal qualifications include basic biology and chemistry courses. An interest in early vertebrate development is extremely useful.
Undergraduates have the opportunity to learn both embryology and molecular biology while working with graduate students and scientists in the laboratory. They are expected to execute experiments, read and discuss research articles and present their findings at laboratory meetings and at research symposia.