Tmem or not Tmem? Functional analysis of novel genetic regulators in cardiac form and function

Dr Kelly Smith, Lab Head at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland 

The heart is essential for our survival and forms during embryonic development. It begins functioning just 22 days after the human embryo is fertilised, which is necessary to support the continued growth of the embryo. We have a sound understanding of the major anatomical stages of heart development; however, our knowledge of the genetic and cellular events orchestrating its morphogenesis is incomplete. Focussing primarily on the early stages of heart development, my lab uses the zebrafish model to identify novel genes in cardiac development. We do this by creating mutant animals with cardiac defects. We investigate the mechanisms of how these genes function—for some of these genes, we translate our findings to the mammalian context. Using this approach, we have uncovered several novel genetic regulators of cardiac development and two will be presented. One gene is required for the correct development of the cardiac valves and functions to degrade the extracellular matrix. The second gene has no known function but is required for correct cardiac rhythm. These discoveries identify new molecular regulators of cardiac form and function and demonstrate that there is still much to discover in the genetic regulation of the heart.

Kelly Smith is a Lab Head at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland. Her research group investigates the early stages of heart development, seeking to identify novel genetic regulators of cardiac form and function. Kelly received her PhD in 2005 from the University of Melbourne studying gastrointestinal physiology. She then moved to the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands where she undertook postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Jeroen Bakkers studying cardiac development using the zebrafish model. She returned to Australia in 2010, working under the mentorship of Associate Professor Carol Wicking at the IMB. In 2013, Kelly was appointed as a Lab Head at the IMB, UQ.