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Laura Johnston received a B.S. in biology from Pacific Lutheran University and a Ph.D. in molecular pathology from the University of Washington. She conducted postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Bruce Edgar (a 1995 Rita Allen Foundation Scholar) at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. She joined the faculty of Columbia University Medical Center in 2000, and was named Professor of Genetics and Development in 2016. She is the president-elect of the National Drosophila Board of Directors.
The Johnston laboratory investigates the mechanisms used by growing tissues to gauge the collective and individual fitness of cells and thereby optimize tissue and animal fitness. Johnston’s team is interested in basic biological mechanisms and also in their relevance to developmental and tumorigenic pathologies. They use the simple genetic model organism Drosophila and have developed tools and strategies that allow manipulation of growth and cell fitness in living, growing animals. Projects include: investigation of the role of the conserved oncogene and growth regulator Myc in mediation of cooperative and 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 immediate environment; roles of p53, Toll receptors and NFkB as sensors and effectors of cellular fitness; and molecular genetic dissection of tissue regeneration. These processes provide plasticity to growing organs, and the Johnston lab is addressing their importance in normal growth, during regeneration and as mechanisms that may be exploited by precancerous cells during tumor progression.