Rita Mateus is a joint group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics and the Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life in Dresden, Germany. She has always been interested in understanding how cells coordinate precise growth and form of tissues, allowing them to become fully functional. To this end, Rita did her PhD in Prof. Antonio Jacinto’s laboratory in Portugal, where she investigated how, upon injury, the zebrafish caudal fin precisely regenerates its shape and size, over and over, error-free. During her postdoc in the group of Prof. Marcos Gonzalez-Gaitán in Switzerland, Rita turned to development to investigate how morphogens control organ growth, using the zebrafish pectoral fin as a model. In parallel, she became more and more interested in understanding size and shape at the subcellular level, in particular to try to understand the physics and cell biology underlying structural colors, that require the formation of specific organelles with particular morphologies. Now, in her laboratory, Rita is pursuing these two research avenues to explore the biophysical properties involved in controlling growth across these very different length scales.
About her talk: Form Leading to Function at the Subcellular Scale
Cellular function often relies on specialized compartmentalization. Zebrafish have pigment cells with dedicated organelles that contain guanine crystals – generating structural colors by reflection of light. This function emerges from the stereotypic morphology of the crystals that are large, but remarkably thin. What controls the macroscopic shape of the crystals in the cell? How do cells concentrate high levels of toxic guanine to start its crystallization? As each crystal is enclosed by a tight membrane, we hypothesize this is the key factor controlling its growth dynamics. To test this, we are imaging guanine crystallization in vivo, while exploring the biophysical and biochemical properties of this organelle to understand what regulates biogenic crystal growth.