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Douglas Houston, PhD

Associate Professor

Office: 257 BB
Office Phone: 319-335-1316

Lab: 249 BB

Lab Website: https://biology.uiowa.edu/people/douglas-houston

Localized molecules and maternal signaling pathways in early vertebrate development

Molecular patterning of the early vertebrate embryo requires maternally derived, localized signaling mechanisms. My specific research aims to identify and characterize mechanisms controlled by RNAs and proteins localized within the egg, in particular those enriched in the cytoskeleton-rich cortex. It is well known that RNAs localized to the vegetal cortex are required for axis induction, germ layer patterning and primordial germ cell formation in many organisms, and rearrangements of the cortex are involved in establishing dorsal-ventral asymmetry in the embryo. Following fertilization, cells that inherit membrane containing egg cortex material are specified to form the superficial layer of the embryo, which has fates distinct from deep layer cells. My lab uses the amphibian Xenopus laevis, taking advantage of its rich history of experimental embryology and ease of the identification and manipulation of molecules involved in early development. Although not amenable to genetic screens in the classic sense, early patterning events can be subjected to rapid loss-of-function analysis. My lab is one of the few that specializes in the depletion specific maternal mRNAs in oocytes, which results in embryos lacking the ability to synthesize the cognate proteins during the period when patterning in established.

Research in my lab falls into three main projects; (a) determining the roles of vegetal cortex-localized mRNAs in early development, axis formation in particular, (b) characterizing mechanisms regulated by the egg cortex that result in the formation of the superficial epithelium, and (c) elucidating the role of maternally inherited molecules in the regulation of key, early zygotic signaling pathways, such as Wnt and Nodal signaling. A future direction of the lab in general is to use Xenopus tropicalis for genetic studies. Genetic and genomic resources have been developed for this diploid cousin of X. laevis, and a facility to house the animals in the Biology department is under construction.

PubMed link

Department/Program Affiliations:
Molecular Medicine