Rebecca Heald is a cell biologist recognized for her work on cell division and biological size control. In particular, she is known for her use of cytoplasmic extracts prepared from eggs of the African clawed frog Xenopus laevis to study how the mitotic spindle forms and scales to different sizes. Heald was born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania and grew up in Greenville, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York with a degree in Chemistry in 1985 and from Harvard Medical School in 1993 with a Ph.D. in Physiology and Biophysics. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany before joining the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley in 1997. She was awarded the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award in 2006 and was elected as a fellow of the American Society for cell biology in 2017. Heald is known for postdoctoral mentoring and for promoting diversity and inclusion in the life sciences, and was awarded the Leon K. Henkin Citation for Distinguished Service at UC Berkeley in 2019. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Rebecca Heald's laboratory is interested in how the microtubule cytoskeleton self-organizes to form the spindle, a dynamic cellular structure that functions to segregate a complete copy of the genome to daughter cells during cell division. They demonstrated that a biochemical gradient emanating from mitotic chromosomes operates to stabilize microtubules in mitosis through the regulation of the nuclear transport machinery. They have characterized the role of a number of downstream cellular factors involved in spindle assembly, chromosome condensation, and chromosome segregation, including molecular motors and other microtubule-associated proteins, chromosome-associated proteins, and non-coding RNA. They have used frog species with different genome and cell sizes to reveal how subcellular structures such as the spindle and the nucleus scale with cell size, and identified cellular mechanisms that monitor cell volume and the cell surface area-to volume ratio. The lab has applied a variety of biochemical, biophysical, imaging, and embryology approaches to reveal underlying principles of spindle assembly and biological size control, as well as the molecular basis of variation that contributes to genomic instability and evolution.

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Primary Section

Section 22: Cellular and Developmental Biology