Research Interests

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I'm currently a postdoc at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in the laboratory of Dr. Amro Hamdoun. I will be starting my own lab in August 2022 as an Assistant Professor of Cell Biology at San Diego State University! More updates on that are coming soon...

 

Background: I've wanted to be a scientist for as long as I can remember. Growing up in the American Southwest introduced me to a breathtaking variety of form and function in plants and animals. Thanks to some awesome high-school teachers, I learned a lot about evolution and got hooked on a career in science. I started research as an undergraduate student with Dr. Courtney Smith at the George Washington University. My work explored the incredible diversity of immune systems and their constant co-evolution with pathogens. During my BSc/MSc studies, I fell in love with developmental biology, and sought to understand how immune systems come to life during development.

 

PhD Studies: As a doctoral student at the University of Toronto in Dr. Jonathan Rast's lab, I studied how cells of the immune system develop in the sea urchin embryo. I identified novel regulatory relationships between E-protein bHLH transcription factors during invertebrate hematopoiesis. This work represented the first alternative isoform of E-proteins to be identified outside of the vertebrate lineage, and has reoriented our understanding of E-protein evolution (Schrankel et al 2016, DevBio). I also characterized markers of the larval immune system, including an expanded perforin-like family of proteins and conserved IL-17 cytokines. (Ho*, Buckley*, Schrankel et al 2016 ICB; Buckley et al 2017 eLife).

 

Post-doctoral work: My research interests are now focused on exploring the "cellular defensome" mechanisms by which the embryo interfaces and evolves with its environment. I also seek to understand how natural microbial products and chronic pollutants may chemosensitize these defense systems.

 

In my Post-Doctoral training with Dr. Hamdoun at SIO, UCSD, I am exploring the functions of ABC transporter proteins—"cell bouncers" that export toxins and other molecules out of the cell. I'm studying the regulation and function of these genes in developing gut and germ line tissues. I use the sea urchin embryo and human cell lines as my primary model systems. I am applying cutting edge tool development in nanobody technology and CRISPR/Cas9 mutagenesis for this work. Check out our new ABCB1 mutant line (Vyas and Schrankel et al, 2022, Development)!

 

I am discovering that ABC transporter gene expression and protein activity are tightly regulated during development, particularly in the differentiating mesoderm and gut (Schrankel et al 2021, DevBio). This is the first "map of transport" for any animal embryo. CRISPR/Cas9 experiments point to a function of select ABC transporters in detoxification or cross-talk with commensal and pathogenic bacteria (Fleming*^, Schrankel* et al 2021, JEB^mentored undergraduate). In contrast, mesodermal patterns of ABC transporters suggest novel functions in endo-mesodermal signalling and potentially in germ line development. I am also characterizing a subset of ABC transporters that are conserved in human primordial germ cells (stem cells that will become egg or sperm). Finally, I am beginning to model how transporter inhibiting compounds (TICs), such as persistent organic pollutants, in turn impact both PGC biology and gut immunity.

 

I am currently funded by an NIH F32 fellowship from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

 

 

I am grateful to continuously train undergraduate and graduate students in these research topics. Outside of the lab, I am a fierce advocate for basic science research. Prior to the pandemic, I engaged in hands-on outreach efforts at local public libraries and high schools that communicate the joy and power of science to the next generation of students and the general public and voters. I am looking forward to the time we can do citizen science together in person again!

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Imaging the membrane of sea urchin blastulae, with tight-junction protein and Life-Act markers

Imaging active transport in sea urchin blastulae