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.


Evolution of gene expression after whole-genome duplication: New insights from the spotted gar genome.

J Exp Zool B Mol Dev Evol. 2017 Sep 25;:

Authors: Pasquier J, Braasch I, Batzel P, Cabau C, Montfort J, Nguyen T, Jouanno E, Berthelot C, Klopp C, Journot L, Postlethwait JH, Guiguen Y, Bobe J

Whole-genome duplications (WGDs) are important evolutionary events. Our understanding of underlying mechanisms, including the evolution of duplicated genes after WGD, however, remains incomplete. Teleost fish experienced a common WGD (teleost-specific genome duplication, or TGD) followed by a dramatic adaptive radiation leading to more than half of all vertebrate species. The analysis of gene expression patterns following TGD at the genome level has been limited by the lack of suitable genomic resources. The recent concomitant release of the genome sequence of spotted gar (a representative of holosteans, the closest-related lineage of teleosts that lacks the TGD) and the tissue-specific gene expression repertoires of over 20 holostean and teleostean fish species, including spotted gar, zebrafish, and medaka (the PhyloFish project), offers a unique opportunity to study the evolution of gene expression following TGD in teleosts. We show that most TGD duplicates gained their current status (loss of one duplicate gene or retention of both duplicates) relatively rapidly after TGD (i.e., prior to the divergence of medaka and zebrafish lineages). The loss of one duplicate is the most common fate after TGD with a probability of approximately 80%. In addition, the fate of duplicate genes after TGD, including subfunctionalization, neofunctionalization, or retention of two "similar" copies occurred not only before but also after the divergence of species tested, in consistency with a role of the TGD in speciation and/or evolution of gene function. Finally, we report novel cases of TGD ohnolog subfunctionalization and neofunctionalization that further illustrate the importance of these processes.

PMID: 28944589 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Related Articles

Evolutionary divergence of the vertebrate TNFAIP8 gene family: Applying the spotted gar orthology bridge to understand ohnolog loss in teleosts.

PLoS One. 2017;12(6):e0179517

Authors: Sullivan C, Lage CR, Yoder JA, Postlethwait JH, Kim CH

Comparative functional genomic studies require the proper identification of gene orthologs to properly exploit animal biomedical research models. To identify gene orthologs, comprehensive, conserved gene synteny analyses are necessary to unwind gene histories that are convoluted by two rounds of early vertebrate genome duplication, and in the case of the teleosts, a third round, the teleost genome duplication (TGD). Recently, the genome of the spotted gar, a holostean outgroup to the teleosts that did not undergo this third genome duplication, was sequenced and applied as an orthology bridge to facilitate the identification of teleost orthologs to human genes and to enhance the power of teleosts as biomedical models. In this study, we apply the spotted gar orthology bridge to help describe the gene history of the vertebrate TNFAIP8 family. Members of the TNFAIP8 gene family have been linked to regulation of immune function and homeostasis and the development of multiple cancer types. Through a conserved gene synteny analysis, we identified zebrafish orthologs to human TNFAIP8L1 and TNFAIP8L3 genes and two co-orthologs to human TNFAIP8L2, but failed to identify an ortholog to human TNFAIP8. Through the application of the orthology bridge, we determined that teleost orthologs to human TNFAIP8 genes were likely lost in a genome inversion event after their divergence from their common ancestor with spotted gar. These findings demonstrate the value of this enhanced approach to gene history analysis and support the development of teleost models to study complex questions related to an array of biomedical issues, including immunity and cancer.

PMID: 28658311 [PubMed - in process]