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The Goley Lab
studying tiny cell biology since 2011
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Research interests:
Like eukaryotes, bacteria have evolved exquisite mechanisms to spatially organize their contents, maintain their cell shape, and ensure accurate and robust control of cell cycle-dependent events. Cytoskeletal proteins, including homologs of eukaryotic actin, tubulin, and intermediate filament proteins, are implicated in these fundamental cellular processes, but the mechanisms by which they act are not fully understood. A deep understanding of cytoskeletal function and regulation in bacteria will aid in the identification of targets for novel antibiotic therapies and in efforts in synthetic biology.

Our current emphasis is on understanding the mechanisms underlying bacterial growth and cytokinesis using the alpha-proteobacterium
Caulobacter crescentus as a model. Caulobacter exhibits distinct cellular polarity and undergoes asymmetric cell division each cell cycle (illustrated above). The mechanisms underlying cell cycle progression and development are well-characterized in Caulobacter, providing the opportunity to address cytoskeletal function in the context of a well-defined cell cycle regulatory paradigm.
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Cytoskeletal function during growth and division: To tackle the question of how bacterial cells grow and divide, we focus primarily on the function and regulation of the highly conserved tubulin-like protein, FtsZ. FtsZ is thought to act as a scaffold for assembly of the cytokinetic machinery, to generate constrictive forces that drive division, and, ultimately, to direct remodeling of the cell wall. However, the molecular details of FtsZ function are largely unknown. To gain insight into the mechanisms and regulation of bacterial growth and division, we are asking questions such as:

• How do the superstructure and dynamics of FtsZ polymers relate to its function?
• How is FtsZ attached to the membrane, and how does it generate force?
• How does FtsZ direct remodeling of the cell wall?
• How is growth and division regulated over the cell cycle or during conditions of stress or nutrient limitation?

We take a multi-faceted approach to address these questions, combining bacterial genetics, microscopy, biochemistry, and in vitro reconstitution to obtain a comprehensive view of the mechanisms of FtsZ action. These studies will inform models for how proteins at the division site direct cell growth and division and how these processes are integrated with other cell cycle events in time and space. In light of the high degree of conservation of cell division proteins among bacteria, our results will be relevant to the vast majority of bacterial species, including important human and animal pathogens.

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