Gretchen Edwalds-Gilbert, Scripps College – Cell Stress Response

On Scripps College Week:  How do our cells respond to stress?

Today on The Academic Minute: Gretchen Edwalds-Gilbert, associate professor of biology, takes a closer look.

Gretchen Edwalds-Gilbert is an Associate Professor of Biology at Claremont McKenna, Pitzer, and Scripps Colleges in California. She completed her Ph.D. at the Weill Cornell Medical College and did post-doctoral research at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope in Duarte, California. Dr. Edwalds-Gilbert is a member of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) and serves as a CUR Councilor for the Biology Division. In her own molecular biology lab, she has supervised more than 60 undergraduates, many of whom are from groups underrepresented in science. She was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Warsaw Institute for Genetics and Biology from 2018-2019, where she studied the regulation of gene expression in response to stress.

Cell Stress Response


We experience a variety of types of stress every day, from chronic stress like air pollution to minor stress like “where’s my phone”? Just as whole organisms encounter stress, cells within organisms sense changes in their environments and either respond successfully, maintaining homeostasis, or do not, leading to cell death. How do cells respond to stress at the molecular level? I study one aspect of this problem, specifically, how cells adjust what proteins are made and where those proteins are made in the cell and how this adaptability in protein synthesis helps the cell respond successfully to stressors such as heat, availability of oxygen, or availability of nutrients. I use the model eukaryotic system budding yeast or Saccharomyces cerevisiae since it is a well-characterized organism with gene expression pathways that are very similar to those in more complex organisms, including humans; thus research done in yeast is often a basis for further studies in other systems. 

A key component of the cell is the mitochondria, also referred to as the “powerhouse of the cell” since it is the site of much energy generation in the form of ATP. Recent studies have highlighted the importance of mitochondria in the integrated stress response, and new technologies have uncovered a wealth of proteins that that were not previously known to be there that are also found in other parts of the cell. Uncovering novel functions for these proteins is important for understanding how mitochondria serve as key players in the integrated stress response. As climate changes occur globally, organisms must adapt, and regulation of gene expression is an essential response to these changes.