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

Multiple independent chromosomal fusions accompanied the radiation of the Antarctic teleost genus Trematomus (Notothenioidei:Nototheniidae).

BMC Evol Biol. 2020 Mar 20;20(1):39

Authors: Auvinet J, Graça P, Dettai A, Amores A, Postlethwait JH, Detrich HW, Ozouf-Costaz C, Coriton O, Higuet D

BACKGROUND: Chromosomal rearrangements are thought to be an important driving force underlying lineage diversification, but their link to speciation continues to be debated. Antarctic teleost fish of the family Nototheniidae (Notothenioidei) diversified in a changing environmental context, which led to ecological, morphological, and genetic differentiation among populations. In addition, extensive chromosomal repatterning accompanied species divergence in several clades. The most striking karyotypic changes involved the recent species radiation (about 10 My) of the genus Trematomus, with chromosomal pair numbers ranging between 29 and 12. These dramatic reductions in chromosome number resulted mostly from large-scale chromosome fusions. Multiple centric and/or tandem fusions have been hypothesized in at least seven of the twelve recognized Trematomus species. To reconstruct their evolutionary history, we employed comparative cytogenomics (BAC-FISH and chromosome painting) to reveal patterns of interspecific chromosomal orthologies across several notothenioid clades.
RESULTS: We defined orthologous chromosomal segments of reference, termed Structural Units (SUs). SUs were identified in a total of 18 notothenioid species. We demonstrated for the first time that SUs were strongly conserved across every specimen examined, with chromosomal syntenies highlighting a paucity of intrachromosomal macro-rearrangements. Multiple independent fusions of these SUs were inferred in the Trematomus species, in contrast to the shared SU fusions in species of the sister lineage Notothenia.
CONCLUSIONS: The SU segments were defined units of chromosomal rearrangement in the entire family Nototheiidae, which diverged from the other notothenioid families 20 My ago. Some of the identified chromosomal syntenies within the SUs were even conserved in their closest relatives, the family Eleginopsidae. Comparing the timing of acquisition of the fusions in the closely related genera Notothenia and Trematomus of the nototheniid species family, we conclude that they exhibit distinct chromosomal evolutionary histories, which may be relevant to different speciation scenarios.

PMID: 32192426 [PubMed - in process]

Related Articles

Transgene-mediated skeletal phenotypic variation in zebrafish.

J Fish Biol. 2020 Feb 29;:

Authors: Kimmel CB, Wind AL, Oliva W, Ahlquist SD, Walker C, Dowd J, Blanco-Sánchez B, Titus TA, Batzel P, Talbot JC, Postlethwait JH, Nichols JT

When considering relationships between genotype and phenotype we frequently ignore the fact that the genome of a typical animal, notably including that of a fish and a human, harbors a huge amount of foreign DNA. Such DNA, in the form of transposable elements, can affect genome function in a major way, and transgene biology needs to be included in our understanding of the genome. Here we examine an unexpected phenotypic effect of the chromosomally integrated transgene fli1a-F-hsp70l:Gal4VP16, that serves as a model for transgene function generally. We examine larval fras1 mutant zebrafish (Danio rerio). Gal4VP16 is a potent transcriptional activator, and already well known for toxicity and mediating unusual transcriptional effects. In the presence of the transgene, phenotypes in the neural crest-derived craniofacial skeleton, notably fusions and shape changes associated with loss of function fras1 mutations, are made more severe, as we quantify by scoring phenotypic penetrance, the fraction of mutants expressing the trait. A very interesting feature is that the enhancements are highly specific for fras1 mutant phenotypes - occurring in the apparent absence of more wide-spread changes. Except for the features due to the fras1 mutation, the transgene-bearing larvae appear generally healthy and to be developing normally. The transgene behaves as a genetic partial dominant: A single copy is sufficient for the enhancements, yet, for some traits, two copies may exert a stronger effect. We made new strains bearing independent insertions of the fli1a-F-hsp70l:Gal4VP16 transgene, in new locations in the genome, and observed increased severities of the same phenotypes as observed for the original insertion. This finding suggests that sequences within the transgene, e.g. Gal4VP16, are responsible for the enhancements, rather than effect on neighboring host sequences (such as an insertional mutation). The specificity, and biological action underlying the traits, are subjects of considerable interest for further investigation, as we discuss. Our findings show that work with transgenes needs to be undertaken with caution and attention to detail. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

PMID: 32112658 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Characterization of a Y-specific duplication/insertion of the anti-Mullerian hormone type II receptor gene based on a chromosome-scale genome assembly of yellow perch, Perca flavescens.

Mol Ecol Resour. 2020 Jan 06;:

Authors: Feron R, Zahm M, Cabau C, Klopp C, Roques C, Bouchez O, Eché C, Valière S, Donnadieu C, Haffray P, Bestin A, Morvezen R, Acloque H, Euclide PT, Wen M, Jouano E, Schartl M, Postlethwait JH, Schraidt C, Christie MR, Larson WA, Herpin A, Guiguen Y

Yellow perch, Perca flavescens, is an ecologically and economically important species native to a large portion of the northern United States and southern Canada and is also a promising candidate species for aquaculture. No yellow perch reference genome, however, has been available to facilitate improvements in both fisheries and aquaculture management practices. By combining Oxford Nanopore Technologies long-reads, 10X genomics Illumina short linked reads and a chromosome contact map produced with Hi-C, we generated a high-continuity chromosome scale yellow perch genome assembly of 877.4 Mb. It contains, in agreement with the known diploid chromosome yellow perch count, 24 chromosome-size scaffolds covering 98.8% of the complete assembly (N50 = 37.4 Mb, L50 = 11). We also provide a first characterization of the yellow perch sex determination locus that contains a male-specific duplicate of the anti-Mullerian hormone type II receptor gene (amhr2by) inserted at the proximal end of the Y chromosome (chromosome 9). Using this sex-specific information, we developed a simple PCR genotyping assay which accurately differentiates XY genetic males (amhr2by+ ) from XX genetic females (amhr2by- ). Our high-quality genome assembly is an important genomic resource for future studies on yellow perch ecology, toxicology, fisheries, and aquaculture research. In addition, the characterization of the amhr2by gene as a candidate sex determining gene in yellow perch provides a new example of the recurrent implication of the transforming growth factor beta pathway in fish sex determination, and highlights gene duplication as an important genomic mechanism for the emergence of new master sex determination genes.

PMID: 31903688 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]