Dr. Benny Motro is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Life Sciences. Research in his lab focuses on elucidating the cellular roles, signaling pathways, and the protein interactions of the mammalian NIMA- related (Nek) kinases.
Motro and his group use gene targeting as a primary tool to decipher the developmental roles of the mammalian Nek kinases. In addition, they are involved in the development of an implanted biosensor system for continuous care and monitoring of diabetic patients.
The NIMA-related kinases (Nek) family has recently emerged as a group of conserved regulatory proteins that play a key role in the eukaryotic cell cycle control. Mammalian genomes harbor 11 members of this family, several of which were first cloned and characterized in Motro’s laboratory.
The developmental and molecular functions of the mammalian Nek kinases are mainly enigmatic, and are the major topic of research conducted in Motro’s laboratory.
By taking advantage of the gene targeting method, Motro and his team recently demonstrated that the Nek7 kinase is essential for mouse growth and survival. The mutants’ mouse embryonic fibroblast (MEF) cells revealed cytokinesis failures, tetraploidy and aneuploidy. Cytokinesis failure and production of tetraploid cells are known to set the stage for the development of tumor cells.
Motro and his group are currently investigating the impact of Nek7 absence on cytoskeleton dynamics. To identify and characterize the Nek7 substrates, they are using the Stable Isotope Labeling with Amino acids in Cell Culture (SILAC)-Mass spectrometry methodology.
Recent work conducted in their laboratory revealed the involvement of Nek1 in primary cilium formation. Motro and his team are currently exploring the ciliary molecular pathways affected by the mammalian Nek kinases.
Diabetes is one of the most common and devastating chronic diseases in humans. To stabilize blood glucose levels (BGL) in order to be able to function in daily life, diabetic patients must constantly monitor their BGL. Motro and his group are currently working on a project aimed at developing an implantable sensor for continuous monitoring of BGL.
The project (designated P. Cezanne) is funded under the Sixth Framework Programme of the European Community.
The consortium is multinational and multidisciplinary, and Motro’s group (in collaboration with Prof. Shulamit Michaeli’s group) is responsible for the development of cells harboring a biological sensor sensitive to glucose levels. Their task is highly challenging, as the cells must survive in a harsh environment for at least six months while stably expressing high levels of the sensor protein.
The datasets that Motro and his group will generate on Nek interacting proteins and phosphoproteins affected by Nek kinases mutations will serve as an excellent starting point for detailed studies on the cellular impacts of Nek7 and other Neks.
The combination of molecular, cellular and developmental tools will provide them with comprehensive insight on the spectrum of the mammalian Nek kinases functions.
As there is an intimate connection between the control of the cell cycle and tumorigenesis, it is believed that by deciphering Nek kinases signaling pathways, the work conducted in Motro’s lab will have an important impact on cancer research.