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Living cells have an internal transportation system worthy of any large city. To facilitate growing or altering its shape, a cell dispatches vesicles that serve as “trucks” transporting fats and proteins to its various construction sites. When creating proteins, the cell also sends genetic information to the place where they are needed, so that protein molecules can be built on the spot. Among other vital tasks, molecular transport mechanisms within the cell are essential for the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. Defects in such mechanisms often lead to neurodegenerative disorders.
What directs all of this molecular traffic in cells? That’s the focus of research in the lab of Prof. Jeffrey Gerst of the Weizmann Institute’s Molecular Genetics Department.
Together with his colleagues, Gerst has characterized numerous genes and regulatory processes related to the activity of the vesicles (the “trucks”) hauling various molecules rapidly along the cell’s long and winding highways. These genes have been well preserved in the course of evolution, which means that in the cells of yeast or fruit flies or humans, they are fairly similar. Therefore, research using yeast can generate important insights into the development of human diseases and their potential treatments.
In related studies, Gerst has revealed the precise stage at which a certain traffic route inside the cell is altered by a genetic defect, causing a neurodegenerative disorder called Batten disease.
“I was born and raised in New York and first came to Israel out of curiosity, as a young student of marine biology. It turned out to be a life-changing opportunity. After completing Ph.D. studies at the Weizmann Institute, I left Israel for a while; but when I received an offer to join the Weizmann faculty, I accepted without hesitation. In my view, the Weizmann Institute and Israel are a winning combination.”
“I chose to be photographed near Solomon’s Pillars in Timna, near Eilat, where I worked in sea farming during my first years in Israel.”
Prof. Jeffrey Gerst’s research is supported by the Y. Leon Benoziyo Institute for Molecular Medicine; the Kekst Family Center for Medical Genetics; and the Minna James Heineman Stiftung.