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Brian D Harfe's Profile


Research Interests: Developmental Biology, Mouse Genetics, Limb development, Formation of the intervertebral disks

Brian D Harfe's Projects

Agricultural - Patterning a vertebrate embryo
Principal Investigator: Brian D Harfe

How an individual cell decides what type of cell it will become has been a fundamental problem in biology for decades. The improper specification of just a single cell can have catastrophic consequences for the developing embryo. In my laboratory we investigate the molecular pathways responsible for pattering the developing embryo using the mouse and chick model systems. Projects in the lab include:

1. Elucidate how digits form in the developing limb using both the mouse and chick model systems. Each digit is composed of a unique amount of bone and cartilage depending on its location within the hand-plate. The molecular factors involved in establishing the invariant digit pattern are not well understood.
2. Identifying the molecular pathways required for forming the intervertebral disks. An unfortunate consequence of aging is the eventual failure of tissues and organs, which leads to pain, loss of mobility and eventually to death. A tissue that commonly deteriorates in older vertebrates is the intervertebral disks (located between the vertebrae). Age-related changes in the intervertebral disks are thought to cause most cases of back pain. Presently there is no cure for disk degeneration.
3. The role of microRNAs in development. MicroRNAs are processed by the enzyme Dicer into their mature form. These genes are part of a novel mechanism involved in regulating gene expression. Using a conditional allele of Dicer we have constructed, we removed Dicer from a large number of tissues during mouse development. In these animals, numerous defects were observed demonstrating the important role microRNAs play in vertebrate development.
4. Student initiated projects on ANY topic using the mouse or chick model systems are also encouraged.

The projects in the lab involve extensive work with mice in the new mouse facility (Genetics /Cancer Buildings) and common molecular biology techniques. Students who can commit to working in the lab for AT LEAST 12 hours a week for a year or longer are encouraged to apply. By working in my laboratory students will be well positioned for further research in the fields of developmental biology and genetics.

Requirements: Students should have completed basic biology classes. A working knowledge of molecular biology and genetics would be very useful. Students are expected to be in the lab AT LEAST 12 hours a week for an entire academic year. These projects involve the extensive use of mice including harvesting embryos from pregnant moms.

Time Commitment:

Independent Study: Available
Work Study: Available
Salary: Available
Volunteer: Available