Rukshala hails from the island of Sri Lanka where her high school studies piqued her interest in scientific research. In search of even better weather and an interdisciplinary undergraduate degree, she moved to the notoriously rainy state of Bremen in Germany, where she studied Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Jacobs University Bremen. After obtaining her degree, she moved to Heidelberg to work at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory as a research assistant in the lab of Dr. Takashi Hiiragi. She studied dancing mouse embryos and asymmetric divisions, and her fascination with dynamic developmental systems grew. This led her to the research carried out by the Goehring Lab at the Francis Crick Institute. As a PhD student, she spends her time observing beautiful embryonic divisions and learning quantitative methods in biology.

Project description

In the one cell Caenorhabditis elegans zygote, polarization emerges from interactions among the evolutionarily conserved PAR (partitioning defective) polarity regulators, which segregate themselves into two mutually exclusive membrane domains. Despite being a well-studied process, recent studies on PAR protein dynamics have revealed novel and complex behaviours of PAR proteins that have the potential to substantially impact current models for polarity establishment. However, full descriptions of the mobilities of individual PAR proteins, and how these mobilities are regulated in space and time to give rise to the anterior-posterior axis remain lacking.

The development of single molecule tracking methods in C. elegans has provided an attractive avenue for spatially and temporally resolved in vivo measurement of the diffusive behaviours of proteins, as well as their exchange kinetics. We aim to apply these methods to first define PAR protein behaviours, including diffusion, membrane binding/unbinding dynamics, and with the use of genetically encoded improved self-labeling tags and synthetic fluorophores, we aim to observe and understand long-term single molecule dynamics. Subsequently we wish to use genetic tools to assess how these dynamics are regulated by interactions within the PAR protein network and ultimately, use this characterization of PAR proteins to inform a revised mathematical model of cell polarity.