Researcher’s Profile

Laura A. Johnston, PhD

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Laura Johnston is Professor of Genetics & Development at Columbia University in New York. Her lab at Columbia University uses Drosophila to study the dynamics of tissue growth and size control in development, during regeneration and in models of cancer. The Johnston lab is particularly interested in the cooperative, competitive and homeostatic processes by which cells sense and respond to growth changes in their local environment. Laura serves on the Editorial Advisory Board for the journal Development, and currently serves as the President of the US National Drosophila Research Board of Directors.

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Fitness sensing during organ and tissue growth: internal surveillance mechanisms that promote healthy organ development

Research Statement: 

My laboratory investigates the mechanisms used by growing tissues to gauge and regulate the collective and individual fitness of cells, thereby optimizing tissue and animal fitness. We are interested in the basic biological mechanisms that regulate these processes, how they contribute to development of healthy tissues and in understanding their relevance to developmental and tumorigenic pathologies. We use the simple genetic model organism Drosophila and utilize strategies that allow manipulation of growth and cell fitness in living, growing animals. Our projects include: how the growth regulator Myc mediates competitive interactions during tissue and organ growth; investigation of homeostatic processes, including metabolism, that allow cells to sense and respond to growth changes in their local environment; identification of factors that act as sensors and mediators of cellular fitness; and genetic and molecular dissection of tissue regeneration. These processes provide plasticity to growing organs and give cells control over their local environment. 

Publications: 

1. Meyer, S.N*., Amoyel, M*., Bergantinos, C*., de la Cova, C. Schertl, K., Basler, K. and Johnston, L. A. (*co first authors): (2014) An ancient defense system eliminates unfit cells from developing tissues during cell competition.  Science  346 : (6214) 

2. Johnston, L. A. : Socializing with Myc: Cell Competition in Development and as a Model for Pre-malignant Cancer  in "MYC and the Pathway to Cancer", CSH Persp Med, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press,  Cold Spring Harbor,  NY,  USA,  2014 

3. de la Cova, C., Senoo-Matsuda, N., Ziosi, M., Bellosta, P., Wu, D.C., Quinzii, C.M., and Johnston, L. A.: (2014) Super-competitor status of dMyc-expressing cells reprograms metabolism and requires p53 as a fitness sensor.  Cell Metabolism   19: 470-483 

4. Wells, B. S. and Johnston, L. A.: (2012) Maintenance of imaginal disc plasticity and regenerative potential in Drosophila by p53.  Developmental Biology  361: 263-276 

5. Neto-Silva, R. M., de Beco, S. and Johnston, L. A: (2010) Evidence for a Growth-Stabilizing Regulatory Feedback Mechanism between Myc and Yorkie, the Drosophila Homolog of Yap.  Developmental Cell   19: 507-520 

6. de la Cova, C., Abril, M., Bellosta, P., Gallant, P., and Johnston, L. A: (2004) Drosophila Myc regulates organ size by inducing cell competition.  Cell  117: 107-116