Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry
Cholesterol Genetics and Genomics, Cell Polarization
It is easy to lose perspective about how dynamic biological cells are and instead see them merely as fixed building blocks of an organism. Activity and movement within a cell is ever-changing: molecules are on the move, going in every direction, all of the time, billions of them moving around every second. The orchestration of intracellular movement, the coordination of events toward purpose is what interests Dr. Chris Beh. How does a cell maintain what looks like a static balance with all that fantastic motion going on?
Do you consider yourself a basic researcher?
Absolutely, though my lab has projects that are translational and medically relevant as well. If you look at the recent Nobel prizes, most emphasize basic research. If you are doing applied science you can make fantastic discoveries to create valuable commercial products, but if you do something fabulous in basic research those ideas can establish entire new industries.
Why do you tackle your research questions using a yeast model?
With yeast cells we can remove genes, replace them with genes from humans or any other organism, and express those genes at any time. We can manipulate things in any way we want – the yeast system is a biotechnology marvel!
With yeast we are truly working with a clonal organism. When we delete a gene and compare it to its unmodified normal progenitor, the mutant is identical except for that one change we made. So we have precise control over the targeted changes we make and this gives us control over all of the molecular genetics experiments we conduct.
In contrast, making a knockout mouse to study the effect of a gene can take months or years, but sometimes you can ask the same questions using yeast and get answers in less than a week. For getting quick answers about fundamental processes common to all living cells, yeast is hard to beat.