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New genomic technologies to deconstruct cell identity in development and reprogramming - 5 May 2022

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New genomic technologies to deconstruct cell identity in development and reprogramming

Speaker: Professor Samantha Morris

I am an Associate Professor of Developmental Biology and Genetics. My expertise in stem cell engineering is rooted in my long-standing interest in developmental mechanisms.

Training with Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz at the University of Cambridge, I studied cell fate specification in early mammalian development; specifically, how the totipotent zygote balances cell commitment and proliferation to generate the blastocyst. I took these foundational perspectives on cell identity into my postdoctoral research in George Daley's lab at Harvard Medical School. This transition into stem cell biology coincided with an array of reports touting the ability to experimentally direct pluripotent cells into highly specialized cell types, and to forcibly alter cell identity using ectopic transcription factor overexpression. At this time, very little work was being done to characterize the molecular dynamics of these processes or to rigorously address the functional or molecular equivalence between engineered cell types and their naturally occurring counterparts. My work established new methods for quantifying and comparing cell identity using network-based algorithms such as CellNet and showed that a careful, "rational" investigation into cell fate transitions is necessary to understand these processes beyond rudimentary, phenomenological description.

My independent lab at Washington University continues to break new ground by coupling the molecular genetics and cell biology of cell fate transitions, including new technologies to track lineage histories of reprogramming populations in vitro and to "record" the molecular events that direct cells toward defined identities. I have applied these concepts to multiple different systems to unpack the complex dynamics of cell fate choice at single-cell resolution, offering new opportunities to quantify the molecular events that control cell identity and behavior. In the long-term, I aim to leverage our precision cell reprogramming to support improved disease modeling and therapies in regenerative medicine.

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