Mara Schvarzstein

Schvarzstein, Mara

Associate Professor, Biology, Brooklyn College (CUNY)

Academic Appointments:

Associate Professor, Biology Department, Brooklyn College, The City University of New York
Faculty, Biology, Biology and Biochemistry PhD Programs, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York


Postdoctoral Scholar (Developmental Biology and Genetics), Stanford University, CA, USA
Ph.D. (Molecular and Medical Genetics and Developmental Biology), University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M.Sc. (Plant Molecular Biology– Electrophysiology/Virology/Signal transduction), University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Research Focus

Our research focuses on uncovering causes and consequences of inheriting abnormal numbers of chromosomes. Polyploidy, the condition of inheriting more than the normal two copies of the entire genetic material present in a cell, is a key driving force of cancer development (Ganem et al. 2007). In particular tetraploidy (i.e. containing four copies of the entire genetic material) elevates the number of chromosomes lost and gained which results in the production of a variety of cells with structural and numerical aberrations of chromosomes (aneuploid cells). This assortment of aneuploid cells apparently confers oncogenic potential. Despite its importance in promoting cancer, little is known about how tetraploidy potentiates cancer development. My laboratory’s research program is aimed at both understanding how cells become polyploid or aneuploid and uncovering the molecular and cellular consequences of these chromosomal aberrations. We combine molecular genetics and genomic approaches with cell biological and biochemical techniques in the well-established model organism C. elegans. C. elegans is a very small transparent roundworm commonly used as a prototype for studying human diseases because it has many functional gene counterparts in humans. We recently established a new methodology to generate tetraploid C. elegans strains from any genetic background to explore the consequences of polyploidization and how tetraploidy facilitates aneuploidy. This is the only entirely tetraploid animal laboratory model system that is both viable and fertile. Using this unique system we are also studying how the cooperative behavior of chromosomes and the machinery (centrosomes and microtubules) that helps partition them during cell division ensure accurate chromosome inheritance. In addition, we are investigating the immediate and long-term consequences of the inheritance of abnormal number of chromosomes (aneuploidy and polyploidy).

Selected Publications (*corresponding senior author, #graduate student author and &undergraduate student authors)

Katherine Rivera Gomez# and Mara Schvarzstein*. (2018). Immobilization nematodes for live imaging using an agarose pad produced with a Vinyl Record. microPublication Biology.

Erlyana K. Clarke&, Katherine A. Rivera Gomez#, Zaki Mustachi&, Mikaela C. Murph&Mara Schvarzstein*. (2018). Manipulation of Ploidy in Caenorhabditis elegans. JoVe issue 133 (DOI:10.3791/57296).

Baptiste Roelens, Mara Schvarzstein*, and Anne M. Villeneuve*. (2015). Manipulation of karyotype in Caenorhabditis elegans reveals multiple inputs driving pairwise chromosome synapsis during meiosis. Genetics 201(4):1363-79.

Schvarzstein M, Pattabiraman D, Libuda DE, Ramadugu A, Tam A, Martinez-Perez E, Rolelens B, Zawadzki KA, Yokoo R, Rosu S, Severson AF, Meyer BJ, Nabeshima K, Villeneuve AM. (2014). DNA Helicase HIM-6/BLM Both Promotes MutS-Dependent Crossovers and Antagonizes MutS-Independent Inter-Homolog Associations During Caenorhabditis elegans Meiosis. Genetics 114.161513.

Schvarzstein M*, Pattabiraman D, Bembenek J and Villeneuve AM*. (2013). Meiotic HORMA domain proteins prevent untimely centriole disengagement during C. elegans spermatocyte meiosis. PNAS 110 (10) E898–E907.

Schvarzstein M, Wignall SM and Villeneuve AM. (2010). Coordinating cohesion, co-orientation and congression during meiosis: Lessons from holocentric chromosomes. Genes Dev. 24(3): 219-28.


Grants and awards over the last 5 years

Schvarzstein (PI):

NIH SC2 GRANT1191484864 “Regulation of Chromosome and Centrosome Inheritance”

PSC-CUNY Enhanced Research Award 62784-00 50 “Causes and consequences of whole animal polyploidization”, City University of New York

PSC-CUNY Award B. TRADB-46-113 “Mechanisms by which HORMA proteins regulate chromosome and centrosome inheritance”, City University of New York

Trainee-organized symposia grant PI: “Worms, evolution, & collaboration”, Genetics society of America”

Scientific Meeting Grant EA299: Organizer of the Second North American Polyploidy Meeting at MDIBL, ME, USA. The Company of Biologists

Student Technology Fund, Brooklyn College

Rapid Response Honorarium, Wolfe Institute for the Humanities awarded to M.S. (for lectures on COVID19 genetics and evolution)

Society for Developmental Biology Travel Award for M.S Plenary Talk Presentation “Causes and consequences of polyploidization”.