Javier Lopez Garrido

Please contact Javier for further information on the project: lopezgarrido@evolbio.mpg.de

Emergence of cellular innovations by co-option of pre-existing metabolic pathways

Despite the central place of the cell in living systems, the evolutionary origin and diversification of different cellular features remain poorly understood. This represents a major gap in our understanding of the evolutionary process, as the establishment and modification of such features has surely constituted an important substrate for evolution ever since the emergence of the first cell. A general theme in evolutionary biology is that functional innovations may emerge by co-option of previously existing structures or processes. This project aims to explore the role of co-option in the emergence of innovations at the cellular level, by studying how key metabolic pathways are repurposed to drive dynamic cellular processes during bacterial endospore formation.

Endospore formation (aka sporulation) is a developmental process that culminates with the formation of resilient spores. The sporulation pathway is conserved among different species, but has been best characterized in Bacillus subtilis. Briefly, sporulation is triggered upon nutrient limitation and involves the close interaction between two cells that differ in both size and developmental fate: the smaller forespore, which becomes dormant and highly resilient following maturation, and the larger mother cell, which lyses after contributing to the formation of the mature spore. In the presence of nutrients, spores germinate and become metabolically-active, growing cells.

The sporulation pathway entails dramatic changes in cellular architecture, which are accomplished using some of the cellular machineries and metabolic building blocks normally utilized for growth. However, how such central pathways are repurposed to promote dynamic cellular reorganizations during sporulation is poorly understood. Here, we will systematically study the role that essential metabolic pathways play during sporulation, using a combination of genetics, cutting-edge microscopy and chemical biology techniques. We look for enthusiastic students keen on learning concepts from both cell biology and evolutionary biology, in a fun and friendly atmosphere.

For more information, please check the following publications: Lopez-Garrido et al. Cell (2018) (PMID: 29425492), Riley et al. Molecular Microbiology (2018) (PMID: 29363854), Ojkic et al. eLIFE (2016) (PMID: 27852437), and Jen Shin et al., eLIFE (2015) (PMID: 25950186).

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