First Person is a series of interviews with the first authors of a selection of papers published in Journal of Cell Science, helping early-career researchers promote themselves alongside their papers. Imge Ozugergin is first author on ‘Diverse mechanisms regulate contractile ring assembly for cytokinesis in the two-cell Caenorhabditis elegans embryo’, published in JCS. Imge is a PhD student in the lab of Alisa Piekny at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada, investigating the mechanisms regulating cytokinesis, as well as how and why this process varies between different cell types.
How would you explain the main findings of your paper in lay terms?
Cytokinesis physically separates a dividing cell into two daughter cells through the assembly and constriction of a contractile ring, and is therefore essential to growth and development. If errors occur during this process, it can lead to developmental problems or pathological conditions such as cancer. A question that has only recently become an area of interest is whether different cell types undergo cytokinesis in different ways. Furthermore, while the mitotic spindle is known to play an important role in cytokinesis, how other components of the cell regulate this process is not as well understood. Our study uses the two-cell C. elegans embryo as a model system to study both of these questions. We found that there are differences in the kinetics and regulation of cytokinesis in the two cells of the embryo; while the larger, somatic cell is able to assemble the contractile ring faster, the contractile ring in the smaller, germline-fated cell is slow to assemble. This difference in timing is likely to have critical downstream effects that allow for the proper determination of cell fates and thereby development. We also found that Ran-GTP and importins function to regulate cytokinesis in vivo and help the cell assemble the contractile ring between the segregating masses of chromatin. Interestingly, we found that this method of regulation differs between the two cells, which may be a result of the different developmental pathways these cells are fated to follow. Our work demonstrates that the study of more cell types, both within and between organisms, will help us better understand division in both developmental and pathological contexts.
Were there any specific challenges associated with this project? If so, how did you overcome them?
Many! Although RNAi is a powerful tool to answer questions, there are some pitfalls, and one must be careful with how to interpret the results. We made sure to test our hypotheses in many ways and to be considerate of the limitations of our study. Some of the imaging (particularly HILO microscopy) and analysis that this project required was new to the lab, so it was helpful to stop, brainstorm and optimize our methods. The non-automatable nature of the experiments and data analysis were also a significant challenge, but learning how to multi-task was the only way around it.
When doing the research, did you have a particular result or ‘eureka’ moment that has stuck with you?
In hindsight, it probably should not have been a ‘eureka’ moment, but it was when I figured out how to calculate the timepoint when ingression switches from one phase to the next. Part of the surprise was that I actually did need calculus in real life. It was also really exciting when I saw that I had successfully generated a tetraploid strain. It's always great to be able to see that you've accomplished what you set out to do, but it is also satisfying to be able to toss out the backup plates and the backup-to-the-backup plates.
Why did you choose Journal of Cell Science for your paper?
Journal of Cell Science is home to a wide range of research exploring all sorts of interesting questions in cell biology. We often refer to papers that have been published in JCS and believe that publishing there allows us to reach a wide audience.
Have you had any significant mentors who have helped you beyond supervision in the lab? How was their guidance special?
I must begin answering this by talking about my current supervisor, Dr Alisa Piekny. There were many moving parts to this paper, and that made me feel like a one-man orchestra many, many times. Her guidance through what felt like dead-ends, and her support through personally challenging times was motivational. I am also fortunate to have the guidance of Dr Stephanie Weber (McGill University), who has a knack for making me feel like my research is interesting (not everyone enjoys graphs as much as I do). Conversations with her as well as with Dr Malcolm Whiteway (Concordia University) have taught me to think about things from a different angle, often leading to interesting new results. Lastly, two (now former) postdocs – Su Pin Koh and her husband Björn Tam – also provided me with guidance on personal and academic matters, and their insight has been very helpful to sort out what works on paper versus in reality.
Who are your role models in science? Why?
I was lucky to find real-life role models in science as early as middle school, and they still hold that title more than a decade later. Two of my teachers – Richard Thornley and Rita Pak – were the first to really show me that science was the good kind of weird. They showed me that science can be like a tough puzzle: frustrating at times, but fun if you approach it with a sense of curiosity. The way they taught me to look at science is what takes the sting out of a failed experiment or results that bring up more questions than they answer. I also draw on my experience in their classroom when I need to teach new content to my students or relay science to the general public – a skill that has come in handy these past couple of years! All in all, they taught me how to learn and how to ask questions, and inspired how I approach science.
“[…]science can be like a tough puzzle: frustrating at times, but fun if you approach it with a sense of curiosity.”
What's next for you?
I would like to continue learning and tinkering with things as a postdoc. I will be spending the next couple of months on the graduation process, but I'm already excited about the biological questions I get to explore next. Regardless of where I end up, I will also continue to do everything I can to increase diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in STEM; whether it's by continuing to serve on committees that promote DEI, or teaching toddlers how to streak on agar plates, I know that working towards this goal also works towards the betterment of science.
Tell us something interesting about yourself that wouldn't be on your CV
I like trying new things and enjoy learning for learning's sake, so I have a bit of a habit of finding myself in relatively unexpected situations. I have collected many stories along the way! In university, I sanded a whole lot of things while trying to be helpful to the McGill racing team and witnessed that the human body – if tired enough – is capable of napping anywhere, anytime. I volunteered in a zoo in Croatia and made a delightful friend (a lemur named Miklós), and I still wear the same style of sneakers that were approved by a very cute pair of armadillos. I also spent some time volunteering in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Switzerland and ended up in charge of the amuse-bouche station for one glorious dinner service.
Imge Ozugergin's contact details: Department of Biology, Concordia University, Montreal, H4B 1R6, Canada.