Laura A. Johnston, PhD

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Academic Appointments

  • Professor of Genetics & Development

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.

Credentials & Experience

Education & Training

  • PhD, Experimental Pathology, Univ of Washington Medical Center
  • Fellowship: 1996 Univ of Washington Medical Center
  • Fellowship: 1999 Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Honors & Awards

1975        PLU/U.S. Oil and Refining Co. Chemistry Fellow

1995        Individual NRSA, NIGMS

1999        FHCRC Fellow

2000        HHMI Research Resources Award (CUMC)

2001        Scholar of the V Foundation for Cancer Research

2002        Hirschl Charitable Trust Award

2002        NY Speakers Fund in Biomedical Sciences Award

2003        Plenary Speaker, National Drosophila Research Conference (GSA)

2004        Rita Allen Scholar

2006       American Cancer Society Research Scholar Award

2006       Blaffer Lecture, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

2007      Harold and Golden Lamport Award for Excellence in Basic Science Research

2010      Café Science Public Lecture - 100 Years of Genetics at Columbia

2010      Plenary Speaker, Rita Allen Scholars Symposium, Princeton, NJ

2012      Visiting Professor, Department of Zoology, Oxford University, UK (Sabbatical)

2014      John B. Little Symposium, Harvard University

2017      President, US National Drosophila Board of Directors


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

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. 

Selected 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