Welcome to the Zebrafish Genetics Lab homepage at Washington State University - Vancouver! The lab is headed by Dr. Cynthia D. Cooper of Washington State University in Vancouver, WA, just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. Please visit our webpage frequently for updates on research and available positions.
Our laboratory is interested in the cell biology, developmental biology and genetics of pigmentation. Black pigment cells, or melanocytes, reside throughout human skin, in hair follicles/eyes and are essential in providing color to those features as well as initiating the tanning response. Melanocytes (or melanophores in fish and frogs) are present throughout the animal kingdom and serve a variety of purposes in different organisms, including mate choice in ducks, warning response in frogs and social behavior in fish. We use zebrafish melanophores as a model to ask questions regarding the cell biology and genetics of pigment/skin cell development. How do melanophores maintain their characteristic shape that is essential for their function? What genes are important for production of mature, healthy melanophores? We hope that answering these questions will help with understanding normal pigment cell development and shed light on mechanisms governing skin cell behavior, health and function. Currently, our work is funded by the Melanoma Research Foundation (in partnership with Cosmopolitan Magazine), ADVANCE @WSU (National Science Foundation) and the WSU Faculty Mini Grant program.
Below is a panel of images following melanophore development in zebrafish. Each stage of development and melanophore function relies on distinct genes and signaling pathways. Panels A - C are of wildtype melanophores at unpigmented, immature and mature stages. Panels D and E are of melanophores found in two zebrafish mutants we are currently examining. These mutants have melanophores with defects in maturation/trafficking and survival, respectively.