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

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]

Related Articles

Cold Fusion: Massive Karyotype Evolution in the Antarctic Bullhead Notothen Notothenia coriiceps.

G3 (Bethesda). 2017 Jun 02;:

Authors: Amores A, Wilson CA, Allard CAH, Detrich HW, Postlethwait JH

Half of all vertebrate species share a series of chromosome fusions that preceded the teleost genome duplication, but we don't understand the causative evolutionary mechanisms. The "Robertsonian-translocation hypothesis" suggests a regular fusion of each ancestral acro- or telocentric chromosome to just one other by centromere fusions, thus halving the karyotype. An alternative "genome-stirring hypothesis" posits haphazard and repeated fusions, inversions, and reciprocal and non-reciprocal translocations. To study large-scale karyotype reduction, we investigated the decrease of chromosome numbers in Antarctic notothenioid fish. Most notothenioids have 24 haploid chromosomes, but bullhead notothen (Notothenia coriiceps) has eleven. To understand mechanisms, we made a RAD-tag meiotic map with about 10,000 polymorphic markers. Comparative genomics aligned about a thousand orthologs of platyfish and stickleback genes along bullhead chromosomes. Results revealed that nine of eleven bullhead chromosomes arose by fusion of just two ancestral chromosomes and two others by fusion of three ancestral chromosomes. All markers from each ancestral chromosome remained contiguous, implying no inversions across fusion borders. Karyotype comparisons support a history of: 1) Robertsonian fusions of 22 ancestral chromosomes in pairs to yield 11 fused plus two small unfused chromosomes, like N. angustata; 2) fusion of one of the remaining two ancestral chromosomes to a pre-existing fused pair, giving 12 chromosomes like N. rossii; and 3) fusion of the remaining ancestral chromosome to another fused pair, giving 11 chromosomes in N. coriiceps These results raise the question of what selective forces promoted the systematic fusion of chromosomes in pairs and the suppression of pericentric inversions in this lineage and provide a model for chromosome fusions in stem teleosts.

PMID: 28576775 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

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]