Networks in the Life Sciences – Genomics, Proteomics and Systems Biology
14th EMBL PhD Symposium

25th–27th October 2012

Speaker: Dr. Eugenia Piddini

  • Wellcome Trust / CRUK Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge


Eugenia Piddini Principal investigator at the Wellcome Trust / Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute of Cancer and Developmental Biology. Eugenia Piddini studies cellular interactions. Her group recently identified a population of Drosophila cells that compete, according to their levels of Wingless expression, inducing cell death in those with reduced expression levels.

Talk: Cell wars: competitive cell interactions in health and disease

Cell–cell interactions are at the basis of multicellular life. They ensure coordinated tissue development and are at the basis of the sophisticated cellular tasks that underpin organ function in the adult. While many types of interaction between cells are synergistic, some are antagonistic.

My lab studies competitive cell interactions. Several studies have shown that during development cells within tissues compete for survival and fitter cells cause the elimination of less fit cells (e.g. by apoptosis), a phenomenon called cell competition. The process of cell competition is thought to be a quality control mechanism that ensures that suboptimal cells are eliminated from a tissue before they can contribute to the adult organism.

Cell competition has been mostly studied in developing tissues and currently it is not clear whether this phenomenon is relevant to adult tissues. Indeed in a currently accepted view, adult tissue maintenance is the result of a plastic but somewhat passive process driven by cellular turnover: as old cells die, new cells are generated by a progenitor population to maintain cell numbers constant. Our lab is investigating whether, in addition, adult tissues monitor cellular fitness. This would have important implications, as selection of fitter cells during adult tissue maintenance could lead to improved tissue fitness and play a role in slowing down tissue ageing. Our model system for these studies is the adult Drosophila gut, a simple epithelial layer with high cellular turnover, maintained by a pool of stem cells. I will present data showing how adult tissues respond when weaker cells are detected.

Studies in Drosophila have suggested that the phenomenon of cell competition could be relevant to cancer biology. Our lab is beginning to explore this hypothesis co-culturing tumour cells with normal cells. I will discuss our approaches and our preliminary results from these experiments.