Research in the Lehmann lab focuses on the biology of germ cells in Drosophila. As germ cells “make” other germ cells, their work follows the germ line life cycle in which RNA regulation plays a prominent and highly conserved role. Lehmann’s team is interested in how a subset of maternally inherited mRNAs organize within germplasm-specific, membraneless RNA granules to specify germ cell fate in the early embryo and maintain this fate throughout the life cycle. They have identified lipid-signaling pathways that guide germ cells through the embryo to reach the somatic gonad. In turn, systematic genetic, single cell sequencing and computational analyses provide them with a framework for gonad morphogenesis and how germline stem cells can self-renew throughout adult life and mature to generate a new organism. Female germ cells differentiate into eggs that, in addition to their nuclear genome, pass on maternally synthesized cytoplasmic organelles and mitochondria. Additionally, the lab focuses on the mechanisms of mitochondrial inheritance and selection in the germ line.
As an Innovation Fund investigator, Lehmann’s lab is collaborating with the lab of Agnel Sfeir, Ph.D. to combine an expertise in DNA inheritance with specialized knowledge in DNA replication and repair. Mitochondria, organelles within the cell, have their own genomes of DNA that are passed down from mother to child. Mutations in mitochondrial DNA can be severely detrimental, so cells limit the transmission of this mutant DNA. How this occurs, however, is not well understood. The pair will develop tools to probe how aberrant DNA is eliminated when mitochondria are passed on from a mother to her offspring, and also methods to specifically edit the mitochondrial genome. This work could help inform the development of therapies for mitochondrial-based diseases such as neurological disorders and age-related syndromes.