Suzanne McCutcheon, PhD
Clinical Assistant Professor
950 S. Halsted St.
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The research interest in our laboratory is the cell biology of the cytoskeleton. The cytoskeleton performs various functions in the cell; maintaining cell shape, facilitating cell movement, and anchoring sub-cellular components. We study two single cell protozoans, Vorticella convallaria and Tetrahymena thermophila, as our model organisms for these investigations. Advantages to using these single cell organisms are two fold. Often times they have more elaborate cytoskeletons allowing easier characterization of its components and they are easily maintained in the laboratory. We use molecular genetic and cell biology techniques to characterize this system. V. convallaria has an expanded contractile cytoskeleton with unique and interesting contractile properties. In previous studies, we have shown that some components of V. convallaria’s contractile cytoskeleton are composed of a multi-gene family of calcium-binding proteins. These calcium-binding proteins show similarity to an evolutionarily conserved (yeast to humans) protein family of calcium-binding proteins called centrins. In recent years, centrin proteins have been implicated in centriole duplication and maintenance, as a component of the nucleotide excision repair pathway and an integral component in various cytoskeletal systems. Our goal is to completely characterize the protein components of this contractile cytoskeleton and ultimately reproduce this system in vitro. Unfortunately, the genome of V. convallariais completely uncharacterized making some genetic approaches to this project difficult. For these reasons, we are undertaking two additional approaches, a whole-genome sequencing project and a transcriptome sequencing project. These sequencing projects will allow rapid identification of genes involved in the contractile cytoskeleton, insights into the evolution of this multi-gene family and overall genome organization of this ciliate’s genome. Additionally, we are studying T. thermophila to give us insights into the genes we have identified in V. convallaria. T. thermophila has a sequenced genome and well-established genetic tools. Therefore, we are identifying homologous genes in T. thermophila and using genetic tools to make GFP-gene fusions and gene knockouts. The results from these studies may give us clues to the possible gene function in V. convallaria.
I am involved in teaching Mendelian and Molecular Genetics and two upper-level undergraduate laboratory courses, Developmental Biology Laboratory and Molecular Biology Laboratory. The Developmental Biology Laboratory course is designed to give students hands-on exposure to the current techniques used in developmental biology research laboratories. In the newly developed Molecular Biology Laboratory course, I use my association with the Ciliate Genome Consortium to engage my students in original research while learning modern molecular biology techniques. In these courses, students gain the knowledge and excitement of a research experience.
PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1992.
BS, Illinois Institute of Technology, 1974.