After a PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology at Brandeis University, Monica Colaiácovo joined Dr. Anne Villeneuve’s laboratory at Stanford University as a postdoctoral fellow. Colaiácovo is currently a Full Professor in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School researching the mechanisms that promote accurate chromosome segregation during meiosis and that are therefore essential for reproductive health. Studies on checkpoint mechanisms regulating meiotic progression in the Colaiácovo lab were supported by the Armenise-Harvard Junior Faculty grant in 2008-2010.
Chromosomes carry our genomic blueprints and these have to be faithfully partitioned between cells every time they divide. Errors in this process can result in cells that carry either too many or not enough chromosomes leading to aneuploidy, which is commonly associated with tumorigenesis.
Achieving accurate chromosome segregation is a particular challenge faced during the specialized cell division program known as meiosis, which results in the formation of both eggs and sperm and is at the basis of human reproductive health. Defects during meiosis resulting in errors in chromosome segregation are associated with miscarriages, infertility, and birth defects such as Down syndrome. However, despite the critical importance of meiosis for human reproductive health, many of the mechanisms promoting accurate chromosome segregation, and the impact that our chemical landscape may have on these mechanisms, are still poorly understood.
The Colaiacovo lab is focused on understanding the mechanisms by which both genetic and environmental factors can impact meiosis, and they perform their work in a microscopic worm known as Caenorhabditis elegans. This is an ideal model system for studies of meiosis given the high degree of gene conservation it shares with humans, how easy it is to manipulate for genetic and cytological studies, and the ever-expanding arsenal of tools (CRISPR-Cas9 genome engineering, RNA interference, etc…) that can be applied to this system.