- Guggenheim Fellow (1998)
Susan Strome is a developmental geneticist recognized for her research on mechanisms that specify and protect the identity of germ cells. After Strome's discovery of 'germ granules' in C. elegans, her lab illuminated how the granules are assembled and segregated to the germ lineage during embryogenesis. The Strome Lab subsequently discovered the MES chromatin regulators and illuminated how they transmit an epigenetic memory of gene expression patterns from parental germ cells to germ cells in offspring.
Strome earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of New Mexico and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Washington in Seattle, training with Elton T. Young. She did her postdoctoral training in developmental genetics in the lab of William B. Wood at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she began studying germ cell development. She joined the faculty at IU in 1984 and moved her lab to the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2007. She is a distinguished professor, a devoted and honored teacher, and a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.
Strome and her research team investigate how cells in metazoans are instructed to develop as germ cells and how their germline fate is protected. Germ cells have a special mission, to produce gametes and entire new organisms generation after generation. Using C. elegans as a model, the Strome Research Group has established new paradigms for regulating specification and maintenance of germ cells. During embryogenesis, the chromatin regulators MES-4 and MES-2/MES-3/MES-6 (PRC2) epigenetically transmit a memory of germline from parental germ cells to germ cells in offspring. Without this memory, the germ cells in offspring die. The MES proteins can promote germline development of somatic cells, but another set of chromatin regulators including the DRM complex antagonizes germline fate in the soma. As germ cells develop, perinuclear 'germ granules' protect germline fate by antagonizing somatic fate. The Strome Lab is elucidating how chromatin regulators and germ-granule factors specify germ cells and prevent soma-toward-germ and germ-toward-soma transformations.