Molecular biologist Sabrina Sabatini is Associate Professor at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”. Here, she contributed in 2003 to setting up the Laboratory of Functional Genomics and Proteomics of Model Systems, thanks to the Armenise Harvard Career Development Award.
She has also received funding from a program called “Outstanding Scientist Returning from abroad” promoted by the MUIR – Ministry for University, Education and Research.
Sabatini’s long term goal is to clarify the complex molecular mechanisms that control the balance between cell division and cell differentiation. To do this, she is using the Arabidopsis thalianaroot meristem as a model system.
If in animals, as in humans, the formation of new organs ends in the last stages of growth, in plants the situation is very different. Plant organisms have remarkable regenerative abilities and produce new parts continuously.
But this is not the only difference. There is no cell migration in plants because the cells have very rigid walls; this allows a direct correlation between gene expression and the state of development of the cell. Post embryonic development of plants occurs in localized areas called meristems. In the Arabidopsis thaliana root, the stem cells located in the region of the apical meristem self-regenerate and produce daughter cells that differentiate in the meristem transition zone.
To ensure the indeterminate growth of the root, the rate of cell differentiation must equal that of cell division. Sabatini’s research interest is precisely to understand how this balance is achieved in plant cells.
This is a unique research approach in the Armenise-Harvard laboratories. It was the first time the Career Development Award was given in the field of plant biology, and is a demonstration of how fundamental it is for research to be as interconnected and multidisciplinary as possible.