Susan Dutcher, PhD
MGI Interim Director
Dr. Susan Dutcher is the Interim Director of the McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University. She is a prominent geneticist and Professor of Genetics at Washington University. She started her career in science studying yeast cell cycle mutants with Dr. Leland Hartwell and realized how model organisms could be used to understand human biology. With her use of comparative genomics to find human disease genes that affect cilia, her interests moved to understanding the cell biology behind many human ciliopathies using genomics, genetics and imaging.
During her academic career, she has served in many leadership positions. She served as Graduate Director of the Molecular Biology Program at the University of Colorado with 20 faculty and as Graduate Director of Genetics at Washington University with over 90 faculty. In 2006, with the departure of Dr. Mark Johnston as Interim Chair of Genetics at Washington University, she became Interim Chair for 3.5 years. During this time of transition, she successfully retained faculty and guided the junior faculty into productive careers. While chair, she served on the strategic planning committee for Washington University School of Medicine as the chairs at the School of Medicine and the Dean formulated a ten-year plan. During the planning, she chaired a subcommittee on Informatics.
Since stepping down as Interim Chair, she served as Co-Chair of a committee to write guidelines setting up one of the first Institutional Conflict of Interest Committees in the country and served as Vice-Chair and Chair of this committee for four years. She currently serves on the Promotion and Tenure committee for the School of Engineering. She also serves as Co-Chair of a committee to nominate and mentor junior faculty members for foundation grants that include the Pew, Searle, Mallinckrodt, Packard, Beckman, and Rita Allen Awards. This committee has been very successful in helping young faculty win these awards. She has served on the scientific advisory board for the Children’s Discovery Institute of St. Louis Children’s Hospital, a foundation set up to fund Washington University faculty to begin new and novel projects that impact the health of children.
Her lab focuses on cilia, which are implicated directly in multiple developmental and homeostatic processes that include left-right asymmetry, heart development, maintenance of the renal epithelium, respiratory function, electrolyte balance in the cerebrospinal fluid, and reproductive fecundity. Nodal cilia in early development are fundamental to initiate the molecular cascade that ultimately leads to the left-right asymmetry. Although the exact role has not been elucidated, sensory cilia present on neuronal cells have a variety of receptors embedded in their ciliary membrane. Centrioles/basal bodies are highly conserved structures that fulfill important cellular functions, such as nucleation of cilia and flagella and organization of pericentriolar material to form the centrosome for spindle assembly and function. Because of the conservation of these organelles, we use a model organism (Chlamydomonas) to study cilia and basal bodies using genetics, biochemistry, microscopy, and computational biology techniques to understand how they are assembled and function. Recently, we have become interested in a unique region that is found between the plasma membrane and the ciliary membrane; this region is called the transition zone. We are interested in two structures called the ciliary necklace and the ciliary bracelet. Using established mutants as well as forward screens coupled to whole genome sequencing, we have identified mutants lacking the ciliary necklace and one class of mutants with an expanded ciliary bracelet. We are using proteomics to understand their role in transport and recycling of ciliary proteins. Genes of particular interest include CNK10 and RPGRIP1L. We are also interested in motile cilia and how motor proteins are assembled and docked on the cilia of the respiratory tract where they help to move bacteria and viruses out of the lungs. Finally, we are interesting in understanding the assembly of basal bodies and the control of their duplication using forward genetics together with EM tomography to analyze their phenotypes.