Index of Memorial Resolutions and Biographical Sketches

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Dr. John C. Sisson died on October 27, 2009, at the age of forty-eight, after an intense six-month bout with cancer. John was an associate professor in the Section of Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology and a member of the Institute of Cellular and Molecular Biology in the School of Biological Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. It was particularly sad to lose such a talented young scientist so early in his productive years, and he is deeply missed.

Dr. Sisson received his B.A. from the University of California at San Diego. He then became a research associate in the Molecular Biology and Virology Laboratories at the Salk Institute for three years. He received his Ph.D. with Professor Matthew P. Scott at the Department of Developmental Biology at Stanford University School of Medicine where he was also a postdoctoral fellow for a year. In the Scott Lab, John published a seminal paper identifying the kinesin-related protein Costal2 as a key regulator of the Hedgehog signaling cascade. A second postdoctoral fellowship followed at the Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) at the University of California at Santa Cruz, with Dr. William Sullivan. He joined The University of Texas at Austin as an assistant professor in 2001 and was advanced to associate professor in 2007.

John’s research focused on the cell biology of early embryo development. His lab uses the Drosophila (fruit fly) embryo, a well-defined model organism. Animal embryos in general have rapid cell divisions at the beginning of development. As cells divide, new membrane must be found to cover the daughter cells. An immense amount of new cell membrane is necessary to bound these new cells. These early cell divisions are a widely-studied model for cell division generally, and their study has led to important new biological insights. In more recent years, John focused attention on the Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein (FMRP), which his lab found to be involved in these early cell division events. His work probing the relationship between this protein and membrane trafficking during cell division thus sheds light on the etiology of human mental retardation.

John’s initial interest in the early cell divisions in Drosophila can be considered to have foreshadowed his eventual move to UT Austin, as John cites a 1971 paper on this topic by MCDB’s Antone Jacobson as a key influence on his thinking. That paper suggested that much of the new plasma membrane was derived from the secretory pathway, specifically from the Golgi. Thus it was with great interest that John identified a novel Golgi-associated protein in his biochemical screen for microtubule-associated factors during these early cell divisions in Drosophila. This identification of the golgin, LVA, then led John to discover that Golgi bodies are actively associated with the invaginating cleavage furrows. On the basis of this work, John established his lab at UT, where he continued to work on LVA.

Work from the Sisson lab is particularly unique for its elegant combination of genetic, biochemistry, and time-lapse and confocal microscopy. A key early paper from the lab showed that dynein microtubule motors move specific Golgi elements to the ingressing cleavage furrow and that LVA mediates this movement by linking dynein and several effector proteins to the spectrin cytoskeleton covering the Golgi stacks. In addition, the site of interactions of these many proteins were very finely mapped and this information used to further explore the mechanism of action. Further work was underway to elucidate the physiological functions of LVA at the time of John’s illness.

While work was underway on that project, the lab initiated studies of the FMRP, simultaneously demonstrating its role in cell division, linking this to its role in translational control, and identifying new binding partners by proteomic approaches. Sadly, at the time of John’s illness, several papers on these topics were in preparation. On a happier note, the work has continued in the lab, and one paper is now published and another submitted.

Dr. Sisson’s research was well funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the March of Dimes. In 2003, John was the recipient of the prestigious March of Dimes Basil O’Connor Starting Scholar Research Award. In addition to work in his own lab, John’s affable nature, meticulous approach, and encyclopedic knowledge of both cell and developmental biology made him a frequently sought-after colleague. John made critical intellectual contributions to work on-going in a variety of UT labs.

Moreover, John made substantial contributions to both undergraduate and graduate teaching. He taught an important upper division cell biology course every fall semester and also a freshman course in the Emerging Scholars Program in biology. He also mentored nine undergraduate students with independent research projects in his lab. Undergraduate alumni of the Sisson Lab are now pursuing Ph.D. degrees at Harvard, Stanford, and The University of Texas. Two other alumni are pursuing M.D. degrees at UT San Antonio. In 2005, John was awarded The Natural Sciences Council Faculty Service Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentoring, and in 2006, John was awarded the College of Natural Sciences Teaching Excellence Award.

At the graduate level, John was mentor to Ph.D. and master’s students, taught graduate courses in cell and in molecular biology, and supervised seventeen cell and molecular biology graduate students doing rotations in his lab. John’s first Ph.D. student, Kate Monzo, is now a postdoctoral fellow at the NIH, and his second Ph.D. student, Howard Wang, recently defended his dissertation and will pursue a career in teaching.

John served on numerous committees. For example, John was the cell and developmental biology track representative to the cellular and molecular biology (CMB) graduate program, and he proposed and implemented various improvements. From 2001 to 2005, he was chair of the Patterson Laboratories Common Equipment Facilities Committee, making many suggestions and improvements. John was also responsible for the re-vamping of the MCDB retreat and its very successful move to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.

John Sisson leaves his wife, Dr. Ophelia Papoulas, and their son, Oliver Elias Sisson. Ophelia Papoulas (Ph.D. Division of Medical Sciences, Harvard University) is a research associate in the Sisson Laboratory. She co-authored several Sisson papers and is continuing the research. John is survived by his mother, Mary Shelley Boggs Sisson, of Austin; his father, Professor John Richard Sisson (retired), of Santa Fe; and numerous other relatives and friends around the country.

He is deeply missed by his colleagues at UT and throughout the scientific community.


William Powers Jr., President
The University of Texas at Austin


Sue Alexander Greninger, Secretary
The General Faculty

This memorial resolution was prepared by a special committee consisting of Professors Klaus Kalthoff (chair), John B. Wallingford, and Antone G. Jacobson.

Publications of John C. Sisson

Monzo,K., Dowd, S.R., Minden, J.S., and Sisson, J.C. (2010). Proteomic analysis reveals CCT is a target of Fragile X mental retardation protein regulation in Drosophila. Developmental Biology 340, 408-418.

Dagani, G. T., Monzo, K., Fakhoury, J. R., Chen, C. C., Sisson, J. C., and X. Zhang (2007). Microfluidic self-assembly of live Drosophila embryos for versatile high-throughput analysis of embryonic morphogenesis. Biomedical Microdevices 9(5): 681-694.

Monzo, K., Papoulas, O., Cantin, G. T., Wang, Y., Yates, J. R., and J. C. Sisson (2006). Fragile X mental retardation protein controls trailer hitch expression and cleavage furrow formation in Drosophila embryos. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 103(48): 18160-18165.

Papoulas, O., Hays, T. S., and J. C. Sisson (2005). The golgin Lava Lamp mediates dynein-based Golgi movements during Drosophila cellularization. Nature Cell Biology 7(6): 612-618.

Beronja, S., Laprise, P., Papoulas, O., Pellikka, M., Sisson, J. C., and U. Tepass (2005). Essential function of Drosophila Sec6 in apical exocytosis of epithelial photoreceptor cells. Journal of Cell Biology 169 (4): 635-646.

Kidd, T., Abu-Shumays, R., Katzen, A., Sisson, J. C., Jimenez, G., Pinchin, S., Sullivan, W., and D. Ish-Horowicz (2005). Maternal and zygotic requirements for the ? subunit of mitochondrial ATP synthase in the mitotic cycles of the Drosophila syncytial blastoderm and larva. Genetics 170: 697-708.

Zarnescu, D., Jin, P., Betschinger, J., Nakamoto, M., Wang, Y., Dockendorff, T., Feng, Y., Jongens, T., Sisson, J. C., Knoblich, J., Warren, S., and K. Moses (2005). Fragile X protein functions with Lgl and the PAR complex in flies and mice. Developmental Cell 8 (1): 43-52.

Royou, A., Field, C., Sisson, J. C., Sullivan, W., and R. Karess (2004). Reassessing the role and dynamics of nonmuscle myosin II during furrow formation and cellularization in the early Drosophila embryo. Molecular Biology of the Cell 15:838-850.

Sisson, J.C. (2000) Culturing Large Populations of Drosophila for Protein Biochemistry. Drosophila Protocols: A Laboratory Manual, eds. W. Sullivan, M. Ashburner, and S. Hawley (Cold Spring Harbor Laboatory Press).

Sisson, J. C., Field, C., Ventura, R., Royou A., and W. Sullivan (2000). Lava Lamp, a Novel Peripheral Golgi Protein, is Required for Drosophila Cellularization. Journal of Cell Biology 151 (4): 905-917.

Sharp, D. J., Yu, K. R., Sisson, J. C., Sullivan, W., and Scholey, J. M. (1999). Antagonistic Microtubule-Sliding Motors Position Mitotic Centrosomes in Drosophila Early Embryos. Nature Cell Biology 1: 51-54.

Sisson, J. C., Rothwell, W., and Sullivan, W. (1999). Cytokinesis: Lessons from Rappaport and the Drosophila Blastoderm Embryo. Cell Biology International 23(12): 871-876. (Invited review)

Sisson, J.C., Ho, K.S., Suyama, K., and Scott, M.P. (1997) Costal2, A Novel Kinesin-Related Protein in the Hedgehog Signaling Pathway. Cell 90 (2): 235-245.

Robbins, D.J., Nybbaken, K.E., Kobayoshi, R., Sisson, J.C., Bishop, J.M., and Therond, P.P. (1997). Hedgehog Elicits Signal Transduction by Means of a Large Complex Containing the Kinesin-Related Protein Costal2. Cell 90: 225-234.

Sassone-Corsi, P., Sisson, J.C., and Verna, I.M. (1988). Transcriptional Autoregulation of the proto-oncogene fos. Nature 334: 314-319.

Sassone-Corsi, P., Sisson, J.C., and Verna, I.M. (1987). Regulation of the Proto-oncogene fos. Transcription by Cellular Factors. Current Communications in Molecular Biology: Nuclear Oncogenes (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press).