Erica M. Selva

Associate Professor
Department of Biological Sciences

University of Delaware

325 Wolf Hall
Newark, DE 19716

Phone: (302) 831-6096
Fax: (302) 831-2281

  • Ph.D., Biochemistry University of Massachusetts Medical School, 1996
    B.S., Biochemistry, Cornell University, 1989

Research Overview:

Studies in signal transduction have yielded a wealth of information about the molecules required to transmit signals from the cell surface to the nucleus. Yet it still remains unknown how a signaling pathway can be differentially modulated to yield unique outcomes from similar cellular contexts. The same signaling pathways are continually drawn upon throughout development yet in some contexts these signals might pattern fields of cells and in others they induce cell proliferation. Recently, it has become clear that glycosylation as well as other posttranslational events play a crucial role in the temporal and spatial regulation of signal transmission by altering extracellular receptor-ligand interactions. The focus of the Selva laboratory is to elucidate the function of posttranslational changes during developmentally critical signaling events using Drosophila as a model to understand how these changes influence growth and development of the organism.

Drosophila is an excellent model system for this purpose because it offers many advantages: unbiased forward and reverse genetics, extensive genetic tools and a complete genome sequence. It can also serve as a model for human disease pathways because its well-studied signaling pathways are evolutionarily conserved. For example, mutations in human Patched, the Drosophila Hedgehog (Hh) receptor homolog, have been implicated in the most common form of human cancer, basal cell carcinomas. While aberrant Wnt expression (a Drosophila Wingless (Wg) homolog) is linked to breast cancer.

Through genetic screens we have identified a class of genes that modulate signaling through posttranslational alteration of the extracellular environment. These genes can be roughly categorized as either genes that control the modification of extracellular receptors and ligands to regulate their activity or genes required for the biosynthesis of extracellular matrix molecules, which in turn regulate the activity of signaling pathways. The research goals of the Selva Laboratory are to clone these genes, determine their role in the modification of extracellular signaling molecules and elucidate the function of these molecular changes. Ultimately, Dr. Selva believes this work will cast light on mechanisms by which the extracellular environment might be modified to attenuate aberrant signaling activities associated with human diseases.

Dr. Selva’s undergraduate and graduate work emphasized biochemistry. Prior to coming to the University of Delaware, Dr. Selva did her postdoctoral research at Harvard Medical School in Boston under the supervision of Dr. Norbert Perrimon, a renowned fly Geneticist, changing her research focus toward Genetics and Development. Dr. Selva plans to use all of these fields of study in her laboratory to understand signaling at the molecular level and translate these reductive observations to their impact on organismal development. The use of Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism to study signaling will enable the Selva laboratory to bridge all these disciplines.