Peering Back Billions of Years Into Cell History
There are essentially two types of cells. Bacteria, such as E. coli are small and open, like a studio apartment. Eukaryotic cells, including animals, plants, algae and parasites, tend to be much larger and divided into compartments, like a three-bedroom apartment.
Nearly all of the biological diversity that we see today is due to the ability of cells to compartmentalize. That ability resulted in a monumental shift in the course of life on Earth nearly two billion years ago. Dr. Joel B. Dacks, Canada Research Chair in Evolutionary Cell Biology, aims to understand the evolutionary forces that generate and shape these compartments.
Dacks is studying the compartments of the membrane-trafficking system, which is involved in nearly all of the production and targeting of material in our cells. This system is key for accurate delivery of hormones, nervous system action, plant growth and for the disease-causing action of our most deadly parasites. By analyzing data from DNA sequencing technologies, Dacks is investigating the machinery encoded in the genomes of algae and parasites that is responsible for making the membrane-trafficking system run.
He is comparing this information with information from humans and plants to identify important commonalities. These not only reveal ancient features, but also identify unexplored aspects of human cellular biology. Dacks is also identifying unique features in ocean algae that improve our understanding of these drivers of environmental cycles or in human parasites, which will pave the way for new treatment targets.
The information Dacks finds will contribute greatly to developing models of the events and processes that have sculpted life into its myriad forms.