The University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Lillian Fritz-Laylin

Assistant Professor

Research areas include

How do cells move? We combine microscopy, comparative genomics, and phylogenetics, using both established and new model organisms, to provide comprehensive and coherent answers to this fundamental question. 

Cells from lineages across the eukaryotic tree crawl over surfaces and through three-dimensional environments. Different organisms crawl using one or more of a handful of distinct modes of migration, driven by unique molecular mechanisms. Understanding these mechanisms and their evolutionary relationships first requires narrowly defining mechanical modes of locomotion, and then identifying phenotypic and molecular markers of each. We are currently defining gene complements required for distinct modes of cell migration, and using the resulting data to trace the evolution of these complex behaviors, and to even predict crawling motility in new species.

Current Research

Bradiochytrium dendrobatidis is a fungal disease devastating amphibian populations world-wide. Based on evolutionary conservation of actin regulators, we predicted that this organism is capable of fast, pseudopod-based crawling motility. This prediction proved correct, but only during a few hours of its lifecycle, potentially during amphibian infection. These “zoospore” cells lack cell walls, build dynamic pseudopods, and crawl at ~40 microns per minute in confined environments. Chytridpseudopods are filled with polymerized actin that requires Arp2/3 activity for assembly. Pseudopodbuilding cells also construct actin-rich cortical networks. Within several hours after birth, zoospores lose the ability to build pseudopods and begin to assemble chitinous cell walls. This transition appears to coincide with disassembly of the majority of cortical actin, leaving regions of polymerized actin reminiscent of the actin patches of walled fungal cells. We are currently investigating this transition between what appears to be an actin cytoskeleton similar to that of professionally migratory amoeboid cells (e.g. Dictyostelium and white blood cells), to an actin cytoskeleton.

Learn more at

Academic Background

  • Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California San Francisco. 2010-2017
  • Ph.D. Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California Berkeley. 2010
  • B.A. Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California Berkeley. 2003
Fritz-Laylin LK, Riel-Mehan M, Chen BC, Lord SJ, Goddard TD, Ferrin TE, Nicholson-Dykstra SM, Higgs H, Johnson GT, Betzig E, Mullins RD. “Actin-based protrusions of migrating neutrophils are intrinsically lamellar and facilitate direction changes”, eLife. September, 2017. 6, 437.
Fritz-Laylin LK, Lord SJ, Mullins RD, “Our evolving view of cell motility”. Cell Cycle. August, 2017.
Russell JJ, Theriot JA, Sood P, Marshall WF, Landweber LF, Fritz-Laylin L, Polka JK, Oliferenko S, Gerbich T, Gladfelter A, Umen J, Bezanilla M, Lancaster MA, He S, Gibson MC, Goldstein B, Tanaka EM, Hu CK, Brunet A. Non-model model organisms. BMC Biology. June, 2017 Volume 15:55.
Fritz-Laylin LK, Lord SJ, Mullins RD. “WASP and SCAR are evolutionarily conserved in actin-filled pseudopod-based motility”, The Journal of Cell Biology. May, 2017. Volume 216: 1673–1688.
Contact Info

330 Morril Science Center II 
627 N. Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA 01003-9292

(413) 545-2578