Biosciences Graduate Program

Bryan T. Phillips, BS, PhD


Assistant Professor of Biology

Contact Information

Office: 200 BBE
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-2071

Web: More About Dr. Phillips - Related Websites and Resources


BS, Biology, University of Illinois-Urbana
PhD, Biology, Texas A & M University

Education/Training Program Affiliations

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Genetics
Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Molecular and Cellular Biology
Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience

Research Summary

How does an egg become an adult? The means by which a single undifferentiated oocyte develops into a multicellular organism with numerous, intricately connected cell types is a major focus in developmental biology. Defects in the process of cell fate determination can lead to disease or death. Cell-to-cell communication is a common way that a cell (or a group of cells) is instructed to proceed down one particular developmental path versus another. One way that cells execute these instructions is through asymmetric division of a polarized mother cell, generating two daughter cells that contain different fate determinants and thus proceed down different developmental paths. C.elegans as a model for developmental genetics Since all multicellular animals progress through development by overcoming similar developmental obstacles, the molecular mechanisms that overcome these obstacles have often been conserved during evolution. We use the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans to address the problem of how cell differentiation works in multicellular animals. C. elegans has many attributes that make it well-suited to study developmental biology, including excellent genetics, transgenics, and a sequenced genome. Importantly for our research, C. elegans also uses conserved cell signaling pathways to polarize mother cells and induce asymmetric divisions throughout its development. The importance of communication The Wnt signaling pathway regulates cell fate in many animals, including nematodes and mammals. Wnt signaling stabilizes a transcriptional coactivator called beta-catenin, which then binds to TCF/LEF DNA-binding proteins and converts them into activators of Wnt target gene expression. beta-catenin regulation is therefore a crucial step in the Wnt signaling pathway. beta-catenin mis-regulation is associated with developmental defects and human diseases such as cancer. Wnt signaling also regulates many asymmetric divisions in C. elegans. An essential component of this pathway in C. elegans is SYS-1, which binds TCF transcription factors and upregulates transcription of Wnt target genes much as beta-catenin does in other organisms. The crystal structure of SYS-1 confirms that SYS-1 is indeed a member of the beta-catenin family of transcriptional coactivators. SYS-1 shows a remarkable conservation of structure and function when compared to vertebrate beta-catenin. We use these similarities (and the differences between the beta-catenins) to dissect how beta-catenins work. Other areas of interest in the Phillips lab are determining how the Wnt pathway functions in C. elegans, beta-catenin regulation, and beta-catenin evolution. These studies will help us understand the larger question of why animal cells differentiate the way they do.

Date Last Modified: 06/06/2016 - 13:17:48