Benjamin Podbilewicz studies cell-to-cell fusion during fertilization and formation of giant cells that sculpt organs. He pioneered studies on the mechanisms of cell-cell fusion in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans and is a professor of biology at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology. Podbilewicz has made seminal contributions to the understanding of how cells divide, migrate, and fuse to form organs. Cell fusion is essential for the formation of bones, muscles, the lens of the eye, and the placenta. Podbilewicz and his collaborators have identified the first family of proteins (FF) whose function is to fuse living cells. They found that FF proteins from C. elegans can merge viral envelopes to mammalian cells.
During his fellowship, Podbilewicz will work in the lab of Tom Rapoport at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Cell Biology. They will establish a system to follow cell fusion in a test tube in order to study the molecular mechanism by which FF fusion proteins fuse and deform membranes.
Podbilewicz grew up in Mexico and earned his BSc in chemistry, bacteriology, and parasitology at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional in Mexico City. He got his PhD in cell biology at Yale University and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, United Kingdom. In 2010, his group published the first report of auto-fusion of dendrites during the formation of arborized neurons. He has recently been awarded an advanced European Research Council grant to search for mammalian cell fusion proteins.