miRNAs and other small RNAs
Research on microRNAs (miRNAs) and other small RNA molecules is arguably one of the fastest growing fields in the contemporary molecular biology. miRNAs, the most studied class of small RNAs, are now recognized as one of the key regulators of gene expression, involved in almost every aspect of a cell life from cell differentiation to apoptosis, although specific functions have been elucidated only for a handful of miRNAs so far. Other recently discovered small RNA classes, such as piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs), small modulatory dsRNAs (smRNAs) and repeat-associated small interfering RNAs (rasiRNAs) are less understood but are also assumed to have a variety of regulatory functions.
We apply computational, functional and comparative genomics approaches to study the repertoire, biological roles and evolution of small RNAs. In particular, we use C. elegans as a model to study the roles of miRNA in development, homeostasis, stress responce and aging.
Emerging models for stem cell and regeneration research: flatworm Macrosotmum lignano
Regeneration is a process of tissue reconstitution that relies on coordinated activity of stem cells. Dissecting molecular mechanisms underlying regeneration will broaden our understanding of stem cell biology. However, studies on regeneration in established model organisms like C. elegans, Drosophila, zebrafish and mouse are confined by the limited regeneration capacity of these animals. The flatworm Macrostomum lignano has recently emerged as a powerful model for stem cell research due to its high regeneration capacity, experimental accessibility and amenability to genetic manipulation. In order to investigate regulation of neoblasts (the stem cells of the animal) by small RNAs and other molecular pathways, we are developing genomic tools and resources for M. lignano, including de novo genome sequencing and annotation, transgenics, and forward and reverse genetics methods.
About the group leader