UCL Division of Biosciences


GEE Seminar - Dr Sunil Laxman, inStem, Bangalore

23 March 2022, 12:00 pm–1:00 pm


Title: 'Biochemical Constraints that Drive the Division of Labor in a ‘Multicellular’ Economy'

Event Information

Open to

UCL staff | UCL students | UCL alumni




Amy Godfrey



Academic Host: Wenying Shou
Abstract: How genetically identical cells growing in the same environment can adopt phenotypically different states remains an outstanding question. It is clear that fluctuating nutrients and ‘low resources’ drives phenotypic heterogeneity. Using budding yeasts, we are trying to understand organizational frameworks of how metabolism enables division of labor and cooperation in groups of cells. In the first part of my talk, I will suggest simple physico-chemical rules that determine how cells can self-organize into assemblies in complimentary, metabolically specialized states. This is in part enabled by metabolically plastic molecules, which are used for different ends by specialized cells. Through this, groups of cells can exhibit true division of labor that benefits the entire cell collective. In the last part of my talk, I will present genome-scale metabolic organizations that reveal compelling biochemical reasons for the specialization of groups of cells. This metabolic organization and flow allows mutually incompatible reactions to simultaneously function via spatial separation. Therefore, groups of cells can effectively produce resources required by other groups of cells. By functioning as effective economies, cell collectives can maximize their growth and survival. I will finally speculate on possible evolutionary implications of metabolic specializations and division of labor in clonal microbial communities, as well as biochemical requirements for facultative ‘multicellularity’.

About the Speaker

Dr Sunil Laxman

Associate Investigator at inStem, Bangalore

Depending on the specific context, a cell can undergo different fates ranging from division, differentiation and autophagy to a commitment to cell death. My lab is interested in understanding how cell sense nutrients, and how the metabolic state of a cell can regulate distinct cell fates. Our research seeks to identify key metabolites and their sensors, and work out the signaling mechanisms through which they regulate cell fates. We are particularly interested in how cells sense and respond to amino acids. To address these questions, we combine the use of tractable genetic models, particularly but not limited to Saccharomyces cerevisiae, reconstitutive biochemical approaches, proteomics, translational profiling and quantitative metabolomics. These nutrient sensing systems hold the potential to subsequently be targeted by specific molecules (identified using chemical genetics) that can thereby regulate cell fates.

More about Dr Sunil Laxman