The membranes of an animal are comprised of phospholipids, cholesterol and membrane proteins which together form a dynamic barrier that is vital to cellular survival. The properties of a membrane can be dramatically affected by altering the composition of these components. Therefore, it is important to understand how proper composition of phospholipids is maintained in cellular membranes, because even small changes impact the ability of the membrane to function properly. Altered membrane composition has been observed in many disease states including cancer, aging-related diseases and natural aging. Despite the importance of membrane maintenance, there are still many questions about how the proper composition is established and maintained in an animal.
Since membranes are essential to all cellular life, many processes that impact membranes are conserved in the roundworm model system, C. elegans. The implementation of C. elegans allows us to use stable isotope labeling strategies that allow us to monitor the incorporation of new molecules into the membrane. These labeling approaches combined with the worm’s short life cycle will allow us to map how the membrane is maintained in both young and old animals. In addition, we can use the worm to identify genes that are important for regulating membrane maintenance under both normal and stressed conditions.