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The Initial Apical-Basal Polarization of Early Embryonic Cells (Mark Peifer Lab)

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Research Environment

A Diverse and Collaborative Department

The Department of Biology is composed of over 50 faculty actively engaged in research that spans the entire scope of modern biology, from the disciplines of cell, molecular, and developmental biology through the areas of ecology, physiology and behavior. The department as a whole forms a very interactive group, which fosters an environment emphasizing collaboration and resource sharing.

There are many formal and informal research ties among the diverse groups within the Department. A few examples within MCDB provide a glimpse of the range of relationships. The Bloom and Salmon labs share the sixth floor of Fordham Hall, and share an interest in mitosis and the mechanisms of chromosome segregation. They approach this problem from different directions, with the Bloom lab using the power of yeast genetics and the Salmon lab using innovative microscopy techniques to study vertebrate cells. This has lead to a very fruitful collaboration that has resulted in numerous publications, and has led to a situation where open doors join the two labs into a single unit. The Goldstein and Peifer labs share an interest in cell polarity, though they focus on different organisms and focused on different molecules. The Dangl and A. Jones labs share an interest in signal transduction events that underlie different aspects of plant physiology. Their different areas of expertise led to a collaboration to identify the molecule which induces an important event during bacterial pathogenesis. The Copenhaver, C. Jones, and Sekelsky labs are interested in meiotic gene conversion, and have a collaborative grant to study this process in Arabidopsis and Drosophila, through laboratory experiments and population genetic analyses. Many more informal ties also join different labs, including joint Drosophila meetings between the Duronio, C. Jones, Searles, Crews, Peifer, and Sekelsky groups, and joint C. elegans meetings between members of the Goldstein, Ahmed, and Lieb labs.

A Close-Knit University Community

The cells shown in the figure are of two types: one are mesophyll cells containing chloroplasts that fluoresce red under IV light and the other are specialized vascular cells that have cell walls that fluoresce yellow under UV light. After hormone induction, the mesophyll cells will transdifferentiate synchronously into the vascular cells (from Groover and Jones, 1999).

The Department of Biology is embedded in a very strong university-wide research community. Our Department provides a bridge connecting the biological research conducted in basic science departments such as chemistry, physics, and computer science to the biomedical research community in the School of Medicine. There are numerous departments in the Medical school staffed by research scientists interested in the full array of scientific disciplines from biochemistry to cell biology to physiology. Because the medical school and the undergraduate campuses are directly adjacent, all of these scientists are located within a short walk of one another and of the biology department.

Formal ties between Biology and the School of Medicine include joint participation into three interdepartmental graduate training programs (the Curriculum in Genetics and Molecular Biology, the IBMS Program, and the Curriculum in Neurobiology) and in the joint post-doctoral training program of the Lineberger Cancer Center. These bring scientists from different departments together at scientific retreats and on student’s thesis committees. There are also numerous links based on scientific interests. These have led to collaborative efforts such as those between the Salmon lab and Keith Burridge in Cell and Developmental Biology, Bob Duronio and Yue Xiong in Biochemistry, and joint lab meetings between the Lieb Lab and Brian Strahl in Biochemistry. They also have resulted in the formation of local interest groups with participants in both Biology and in other Departments, such as those in cancer genetics, the cytoskeleton, Drosophila molecular genetics, yeast chromatin, and cardiovascular biology–these groups meet on a regular basis to discuss their research. Furthermore, the Department of Biology is part of a campus-wide Program in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology and the Carolina Center for Genome Sciences.

An Unequaled Scientific Community in the Triangle

Our geographical location near the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina places us in one of the countries leading areas for cutting-edge research in biotechnology. Three major research Universities anchor the three points of the triangle: UNC-CH in Chapel Hill, Duke University in Durham and North Carolina State University in Raleigh. All are within an easy drive or bus ride, with Duke 12 miles and N.C. State 30 miles away. Thus UNC and Duke are no more distant than the medical school and main campus often are at other universities. The result is extensive interchange between the two campuses for seminars and joint lab meetings between groups sharing similar interests. The academic scientists are joined by a large number of corporate and government scientists in the more than 150 companies in Research Triangle Park (RTP), which is situated between the three campuses. RTP includes large pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies including the U.S. headquarters of GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer Health Care’s Biological Products Division, and Syngenta. The RTP also houses the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (one of the NIH institutes), as well as one of the main scientific units of the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, numerous start-up biotechnology companies like Paradigm Genetics and Trimeris add to the scientific community.

The academic, corporate and government scientists are active participants in many local interest groups, including the Triangle Arabidopsis Group, the “Triangle Smaller Eukaryotes (i.e. yeast) Meeting”, both of which meet at the centrally located North Carolina Biotechnology Center, and a monthly C. elegans supergroup meeting here at UNC. Together, these resources make the Triangle an outstanding place to be a scientist.