Dr. Maitreyi Das is an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in the department of Biochemistry and Cellular & Molecular Biology. Dr. Das’s lab is interested in understanding the intracellular signaling patterns that determine cell polarization. To this end, she studies cell polarization events during cell shape establishment and during cytokinesis. Her research is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Dr. Das grew up in Mumbai, India. She got her Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from Mumbai University and her Master’s in Biochemistry from M.S. University of Baroda, India. She received her PhD in 2004 from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai in Biosciences. She then moved to Helsinki, Finland to study cell cycle in fission yeast in the lab of Prof. Tomi Makela. She continued her study of fission yeast in the lab of Prof. Fulvia Verde at the University of Miami where she studied cell shape control. As a postdoc, Dr. Das discovered how the conserved NDR kinase maintains cell shape in fission yeast. She also demonstrated how cells establish and maintain their shape via oscillatory dynamics of active Cdc42, a small GTPase central to polarization. In 2013 she started her own lab where she studies fundamental mechanisms that promote cytokinesis and polarized cell growth in fission yeast. When not in the lab she loves to spend time with her husband and young son.
Research in Dr. Das’s lab mainly focuses on the regulation of the small GTPase Cdc42. Cdc42 is a master regulator of cell polarization in most eukaryotes. While the role of Cdc42 in cell shape establishment is well documented, it was previously unclear why cells activated Cdc42 at the division site during cytokinesis. Dr. Das and her lab discovered that Cdc42 was regulated by a unique spatiotemporal activation pattern via its distinct regulators, which in turn regulated distinct steps of the cytokinesis process. This work was published in the journal Molecular Biology of the Cell and given the novelty of the work, it was also selected as an editor’s highlight in the American Society of Cell Biology newsletter.
More recently, Dr. Das’s lab has shown how endocytosis is critical for the later steps in cytokinesis. They found that Cdc42-mediated endocytosis ensures that proteins are uniformly organized along the actomyosin ring to promote centripetal furrow formation. This research was published in the Journal of Cell Science and also highlighted in the same issue.
In addition to these publications, Dr. Das’s lab has also published two preprints in BioRxiv. In the first preprint, her lab has discovered a novel crosstalk between two activators for Cdc42. They find that these activators regulate each other to fine tune Cdc42 activation during cell polarization and cytokinesis. This research provides much needed insight into the significance of multiple activators for Cdc42. In the second preprint, they have shown how one of the Cdc42 activators, Gef1 is localized to its functional sites. While both the activators for Cdc42 localize to the same sites of function, this research shows that the activators are regulated by different mechanisms
Apart from her research, Dr. Das is also actively involved in outreach to both young investigators and society at large. Her lab is very diverse with students and trainees from different parts of the world, and two of her graduate students hold NSF graduate research fellowships. Dr. Das was also awarded a supplement to fund a professional development seminar series for graduate students. In this series, Dr. Das invited experts from diverse careers to provide the students with an insight into different career options (academic and non-academic) after obtaining a PhD degree. This seminar series was very well received and has been highlighted here and here.