Dr. Richard R. Behringer
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Department of Genetics
Our research focuses on the molecular and cellular mechanisms that lead to the formation of the mammalian body plan, the genesis of tissues and organs during embryogenesis, and the pathology of developmental defects. In addition, we study the genetic mechanisms that result in organ morphology and physiology differences that have evolved between species. We utilize genetic, embryological, and comparative approaches.
The mammalian reproductive organs are essential for the continuation of species and are common sites for disease. We are interested in defining the factors that cause the male and female phenotypes, including gonad and reproductive tract differentiation. To facilitate these studies, we have generated transgenic mice expressing novel fluorescent reporters for live-imaging to follow the behaviors of cells during reproductive organ formation. In addition, we are studying homeostasis and regeneration in the female reproductive tract.
Stem cells can generate more of themselves (self-renewal) or can produce the different cell types of the body (differentiation). Embryonic stem (ES) cells are derived from pre-implantation embryos and have the potential to form any cell type of the body. Adult stem cells are present in our bodies to replenish cells that wear out (for example red blood cells, skin, and even neurons). Adult stem cells can give rise to single or multiple cell types. We are currently genetically modifying human ES cells and other types of stem cells to devise future therapies of human disease.
We are also investigating developmental processes in divergent mammalian systems, including marsupials and chiropterans (bats). Mammalian embryogenesis and reproduction are very diverse between species, comparisons provide novel insights for reproduction, embryonic development, and organogenesis. We collaborate with Marilyn Renfree (U. Melbourne) using the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii) model to study sexual differentiation and limb development. Bats also offer a unique system to study the genetic mechanisms that diversify organogenesis. We have collaborated with John Rasweiler (SUNY Downstate) to establish the molecular embryology of the fruit bat, Carollia perspicillata, and are transferring bat genes into mice for functional studies of limb development. Our wallaby and bats studies are supported by field collections on Kangaroo Island, Australia and the island of Trinidad, respectively.
Rats are large laboratory rodents that are useful for studies of physiology, behavior, and other fields of biology. The rat genome has been sequenced, assembled, and annotated. One particularly valuable resource to facilitate studies of mammalian gene function that is sorely lacking in the rat system is a large collection of mutants and a continuous source of new mutations. The ability to easily generate new mutant rat strains and to efficiently identify the mutated genes would significantly advance the use of this primary laboratory animal for biomedical research. We have used coat color-tagged transposons (piggyBac and Sleeping Beauty) to generate transgenic rats for random insertional mutagenesis. Our mutagenesis screen should lead to new rat models of human biology and disease.