Walther Lab Research

    Human cells go to great lengths to protect the integrity of the genetic information located on DNA chromosomes. When chromosomes of a cell are damaged, one or more genes found on those chromosomes may no longer function normally and the resulting cell may lose the ability to carry out important functions required for the organism to thrive and survive. Luckily cells have multiple repair pathways able to recognize and fix damaged DNA. Failure to do so can lead to genetic disorders, cancer, and even cell death.

    It can be difficult to study chromosomal maintenance pathways in human cells, so other organisms have been used as model systems to understand these processes. The budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is commonly referred to as Baker’s yeast (used in bread and beer–making), is a unicellular organism that shows a high level of similarity in its intracellular processes to the intracellular processes in human cells.   Often, the same proteins are found in both human and yeast cells and these proteins carry out the same functions in human and yeast cells.  Much of our current understanding of human intracellular processes has come from studies in Baker’s yeast. 

    Most DNA repair pathways require a protein called Replication Protein A (RPA).  RPA is an evolutionarily conserved, single-stranded DNA binding protein that is found in both humans and yeast.  In addition to playing a role in DNA repair, RPA is involved in DNA replication, telomere maintenance, cell-cycle control, and transcription.  In the lab, we are using a combination of molecular biology, molecular genetics, biochemistry, and cell biology to better understand the role of RPA in these different processes.  A better understanding of RPA’s roles in these processes will give us insights into how chromosomal integrity is maintained in cells, and may provide new targets to treat diseases such as cancer.