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Biography

Dr Phil Auckland undertook his PhD and postdoc position in the lab of Andrew McAinsh at Warwick Medical School working on kinetochores, where the group discovered how these large protein structures maintain load-bearing microtubule attachments and negatively regulate dynein to control their molecular architecture. In late 2019, Phil moved to the lab of Aryeh Warmflash at Rice University as a Rice Academy Junior Fellow to work on asymmetric cell division (ACD) in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), where the group found that single mitotic hESCs differentiating toward primitive streak can yield asymmetric daughter cells in a Wnt dependent manner. In 2021, Phil left Rice to set up a Lab at The Randall Centre for Cell & Molecular Biophysics at Kings, where his group will be furthering his previous studies of kinetochores and hESCs.

Research

Mitotic cell division is essential for all eukaryotic life and has been the subject of significant work since the description of karyomitosis (threadlike metamorphosis of the nucleus) by Walther Flemming in 1882. Nevertheless, there are many unresolved questions, primarily due to the complexity of the mitotic apparatus and the plasticity of mitosis in different cellular contexts. The Auckland Lab aims to address this by using advanced cell biology and biochemical techniques to understand several mitotic mechanisms in different human cell types.

Specifically, the group is interested in the following:

Kinetochore biology

Kinetochores are large protein machines that assemble on the centromere of each sister chromatid during mitosis. These complex structures control chromosome movement and mitotic progression by forming dynamic force-generating attachments to spindle microtubules. We aim to understand how microtubule binding regulates the molecular ultrastructure of kinetochores to promote error-free chromosome segregation.

Asymmetric cell division

Asymmetric cell division (ACD) describes the process by which a single cell (typically a stem cell) divides to generate progeny with differing fates. ACD is known to contribute to differentiation and tissue patterning in several model systems, however, whether it contributes to early human development is unclear. Our objective is to identify molecular asymmetries in mitotic human embryonic stem cells and mechanistically link these with cell fate specifications during gastrulation.

Mitotic bookmarking

Developmental transitions and cell differentiation are driven by transcription factors, which generate cell type-specific transcriptional profiles. Mitosis dramatically alters the molecular events that govern gene expression as the nuclear envelope is lost and the chromatin condenses. Our work aims to understand how the organisation of chromosome-bound transcription factors confers gene regulatory information from mother to daughter cells during mitosis.