Elizabeth (Beth) Duncan
Damon Runyon Postdoctoral Fellow, Stowers Institute for Medical Research, 2010-2018
PhD (Biochemistry & Chromatin Biology), The Rockefeller University, 2003-2009
BA (English Literature), Dartmouth College, 1996-2000
Many organisms in the animal kingdom possess some capactity to regenerate, although often such regeneration is limited to a specific organ (e.g. the liver) and/or developmental stage (e.g. tadpole). However, many planarian flatworm species have the extraordinary regenerative ability to reconstruct an entirely new animal from just a small piece of excised tissue. Such worms are also classified as "negligibly senescent" -- in other words, immortal.
I am interested in understanding the cellular and molecular basis of these remarkable biological phenomena. One cell population that is essential for both regeneration and immortality is the neoblast population; it contains pluripotent stem cells that not only differentiate into all cell types of the worm, but also do so in the context of an adult organism. Yet, despite maintaining a large population of replicating stem cells, planarians are excellent at regulating their body size and proporation and we see very little evidence of tumorigenesis. Moreover, as in embryogenesis, the regulation of pluripotency and differentiation in planarians must occur using a single genome.
In my lab, we will aim to understand how genome accessibility is regulated during regeneration and how such regulation translates into functional effects on specific cell types.