Graduate Student Directory


Helen Lai
MGM Graduate Student

C359 LSRC 
Box 3813 DUMC 
Durham, N.C. 27710

Phone: (919) 613-8628 
Fax: TBD
Email: helen.lai@duke.edu

Helen Lai

Research Interests: Molecular Genetics, Gene Expression, and Chromosome Biology

I was born and raised in Tainan, a city known for its delicious food in Taiwan. This little place has its charm--though hot and crowded most of the time, it harbors lots of history and incredible night markets. I came to the US for my undergraduate studies at the University of Washington, Seattle (go Dawgs!) in 2008 because of the amazing opportunities and diversity here. My undergraduate research experience in the Brewer/Raghuraman lab and Torii lab led me to continue graduate studies, and MGM is the perfect program for me because of its collaborative culture and wide variety of research.

In the Lew lab, we study mechanisms underlying cell polarity using Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is a very tractable model organism that allows genetic manipulation and microscopy. Particularly, I am interested in how yeast cells direct polarized growth up a chemical gradient (chemotropism). During mating, yeast cells sense their “date”, or mating partner, through a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) mediated pathway in order to grow towards each other and eventually fuse. The master regulatory Rho-GTPase, Cdc42p, and associated polarity proteins form a patch that directs secretory vesicles for growth on the up-gradient side of the cell. My project aims to understand how the pheromone gradient is translated through the GPCR pathway to bias the location and movement of the patch of polarity proteins in order for the cells to properly orient their mating projections.

I have always been a big fan of genetics and fungus, but that's not the only reason I joined Danny's lab. I appreciate the open environment that encourages questions and discussions. I am very excited for my project that will provide insights into basic cellular understanding.

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