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Research Fellows Directory

Silvia Costa

Dr Silvia Costa

Research Fellow


University of East Anglia

Research summary

When a new organism develops, two main processes take place: cells divide and acquire an identity, so they “know” which type of tissue and organ they will form. If this process fails, cells will divide in an uncontrolled way and form a cell clump, like a cancer, instead of forming tissues and organs of the correct shape and size. Thus, division must be strictly regulated in time and space. The mechanisms controlling when cells should divide and those controlling the mechanics of cell division orientation are well studied, however, it is not understood how they are connected and this is the focus of my studies.

I use the Arabidopsis root epidermis as a simple system to gain new insights that can then be applied to more complex systems. I am examining whether the choices made by the cells on where to position their division plane are the result of cells communicating with one another to coordinate their division and form a pattern, or whether cells behave as distinct entities during this process.

My research addresses the very basic biological question of how cells can form highly complex tissues and organise them into organs. Plants are particularly exciting to study because they reiterate these processes throughout their life and can maintain a degree of developmental plasticity to adapt to their environment that is not seen in animals. Plant cells are different from animal cells because they have cell walls that render them immobile. However, despite these differences many proteins involved in the control of cell division are present in both animals and plants and thus a degree of functional conservation should be present. One of the challenges is to understand how nature has been resourceful in using the same toolkit and thus exploit the knowledge acquired from plant systems for the benefits of animal systems or vice versa.

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Controlling symmetric cell division in the Arabidopsis root

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Dates: Oct 2012 - Sep 2015

Value: £309,792.15

The genetic analysis of cell fate switch in Arabidopsis

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Dates: Oct 2007 - Sep 2012

Value: £481,588