Biologist Susan Strome to give annual Faculty Research Lecture

Susan Strome
Susan Strome (Photo by C. Lagattuta)

Susan Strome, distinguished professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology at UC Santa Cruz, will deliver the 50th annual UCSC Faculty Research Lecture on Friday, September 25, at 7 p.m. in the Music Recital Hall. Entitled "Beyond the DNA Code: Transmission of developmental instructions from parents to offspring," the lecture is free and open to the public.

The annual Faculty Research Lecture is among the highest honors bestowed upon a faculty member by his or her own campus colleagues. It was given to Strome in recognition of her outstanding research accomplishments.

Strome studies germ cells, which are the progenitors of sperm and eggs and of future generations of organisms. A fundamental challenge in developmental biology has been the identification of mechanisms and genes that instruct a cell in the developing embryo to become a germ cell, as opposed to becoming a cell that contributes to the body of the organism. Throughout her career, Strome has studied how germ cells arise in the embryo and how they maintain their ability to self-renew. Using nematodes as a model organism, she has identified genes that determine whether a cell becomes a germ cell or a body cell.

Recent findings from Strome's lab have revealed crucial details of mechanisms called "epigenetics" by which a person's development may be influenced by the experiences of his or her parents and grandparents. Epigenetic modifications do not affect the DNA sequence of genes, but change how the DNA is packaged and how genes are expressed. In this way, epigenetic "memories" are transmitted from parents to their offspring. Because the factors that transmit and regulate this memory are the same in a wide range of animals, the Strome lab's findings in nematode worms have important implications for humans.

Another novel mode of developmental instruction discovered by Strome's lab is the role of "germ granules" in determining which cells develop as germ cells. Germ granules are distinctive structures found only in germ cells, and Strome's research team has shown that germ granules are delivered to the embryo by the egg and then passed specifically to germ cells to protect their germline fate.

A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Strome was appointed to a UC Santa Cruz Presidential Chair in July. She joined the UCSC faculty in 2007.