John Postlethwait

Professor, Department of Biology
Member, ION

Ph.D. Case Western Reserve
B.S. Stanford Univeristy


Research Interests: Genetic regulation of animal development including development of the nervous system, the mechanisms of sex determination, the origin of novel morphologies in evolution and the evolution of the vertebrate genome.

Overview: Our laboratory is interested in the genetic, genomic, and evolutionary principles that guide animal development. We investigate several aspects of this main problem: 

Genome Duplication: The evolution of gene functions in development after genome duplication, focusing on skeletal development.

Fanconi anemia: A small molecule screen for compounds to rescue zebrafish Fanconi Anemia mutants as a way to identify potential therapeutics for human FA patients and to understand disease mechanisms.

MicroRNAs: The roles of microRNAs in embryonic (especially skeletal) development, including evolving miRNA functions after genome duplication.

Icefish: The genetic basis for the evolution of osteopenia or osteoporosis in Antarctic icefish.

Sex determinaion:The developmental genetic basis for sex determination in zebrafish.

Speciation: The roles of genome duplication in lineage divergence, focusing on the evolution of cis and trans acting regulation in the radiation of the danio lineage, including zebrafish, and on variation among populations of stickleback.

Oikopleura: Retaining a chordate body plan as an adult, the larvacean urochordate Oikopleura dioica represents the sister lineage to the vertebrates, diverging before the R1 and R2 rounds of genome duplication that led to the origin of vertebrate innovations.

Perchlorate toxicity and sex determination: Perchlorate is a pervasive environmental contaminant that can cause partial sex reversal in stickleback. We are investigating the hypotheses that perchlorate alters sex development through the thyroid or a non-thyroidal mechanism.

Drosophila developmental genetics: Work on Drosophila homeotic mutants, pattern formation, and ovary development.


Related Articles

BAC Recombineering of the Agouti Loci from Spotted Gar and Zebrafish Reveals the Evolutionary Ancestry of Dorsal-Ventral Pigment Asymmetry in Fish.

J Exp Zool B Mol Dev Evol. 2017 May 24;:

Authors: Cal L, MegÍas M, Cerdá-Reverter JM, Postlethwait JH, Braasch I, Rotllant J

Dorsoventral pigment patterning, characterized by a light ventrum and a dark dorsum, is one of the most widespread chromatic adaptations in vertebrate body coloration. In mammals, this countershading depends on differential expression of agouti-signaling protein (ASIP), which drives a switch of synthesis of one type of melanin to another within melanocytes. Teleost fish share countershading, but the pattern results from a differential distribution of multiple types of chromatophores, with black-brown melanophores most abundant in the dorsal body and reflective iridophores most abundant in the ventral body. We previously showed that Asip1 (a fish ortholog of mammalian ASIP) plays a role in patterning melanophores. This observation leads to the surprising hypothesis that agouti may control an evolutionarily conserved pigment pattern by regulating different mechanisms in mammals and fish. To test this hypothesis, we compared two ray-finned fishes: the teleost zebrafish and the nonteleost spotted gar (Lepisosteus oculatus). By examining the endogenous pattern of asip1 expression in gar, we demonstrate a dorsoventral-graded distribution of asip1 expression that is highest ventrally, similar to teleosts. Additionally, in the first reported experiments to generate zebrafish transgenic lines carrying a bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) from spotted gar, we show that both transgenic zebrafish lines embryos replicate the endogenous asip1 expression pattern in adult zebrafish, showing that BAC transgenes from both species contain all of the regulatory elements required for regular asip1 expression within adult ray-finned fishes. These experiments provide evidence that the mechanism leading to an environmentally important pigment pattern was likely in place before the origin of teleosts.

PMID: 28544213 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Related Articles

Lipid droplet biology and evolution illuminated by the characterization of a novel Perilipin in teleost fish.

Elife. 2017 Feb 28;6:

Authors: Granneman JG, Kimler VA, Zhang H, Ye X, Luo X, Postlethwait JH, Thummel R

Perilipin (PLIN) proteins constitute an ancient family important in lipid droplet (LD) formation and triglyceride metabolism. We identified an additional PLIN clade (plin6) that is unique to teleosts and can be traced to the two whole genome duplications that occurred early in vertebrate evolution. Plin6 is highly expressed in skin xanthophores, which mediate red/yellow pigmentation and trafficking, but not in tissues associated with lipid metabolism. Biochemical and immunochemical analyses demonstrate that zebrafish Plin6 protein targets the surface of pigment-containing carotenoid droplets (CD). Protein kinase A (PKA) activation, which mediates CD dispersion in xanthophores, phosphorylates Plin6 on conserved residues. Knockout of plin6 in zebrafish severely impairs the ability of CD to concentrate carotenoids and prevents tight clustering of CD within carotenoid bodies. Ultrastructural and functional analyses indicate that LD and CD are homologous structures, and that Plin6 was functionalized early in vertebrate evolution for concentrating and trafficking pigment.

PMID: 28244868 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]