Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps
Assistant Professor
VBR 135

WSU Aquatic Molecular Physiology Lab

AQUATIC MOLECULAR PHYSIOLOGY. While our knowledge of the genetic structure of life is progressing at an unprecedented rate, decoding the function of individual genes and their role in complex molecular networks remains a major scientific challenge. The Phelps laboratory is interested in understanding how genetic variation influences physiological function in aquatic organisms, to gain insight into the underlying drivers of important phenotypic traits. We take an integrated physiological approach to investigating gene function spanning the molecular, cellular, organismal and even environmental levels.

Our laboratory is particularly interested in identifying the genetic factors that control the growth and size of animals and tissues, with special emphasis on the growth and development skeletal muscle in teleost fish. Our research also develops new targeted-DNA sequencing and CRISPR genome-editing technologies to characterize gene function in non-model aquatic species that have direct agricultural or environmental importance. This includes a major focus on functional mapping of the genome in wild and cultured salmonids, to identify genes critical for growth, health and environmental adaptation. The Phelps laboratory addresses both basic and applied biological questions to further knowledge of fundamental muscle growth pathways in aquatic organisms while identifying ways to enhance salmonid conservation and aquaculture production.

Specific Research Areas

  • Characterization of the activin/myostatin signaling pathway in fish muscle growth
  • Functional annotation of the salmonid genome
  • Gene discovery and characterization in non-model aquatic species


  1. Dimos B, Phelps MP. 2023. A homology guide for Pacific salmon genus Oncorhynchus resolves patterns of ohnolog retention, resolution and local adaptation following the salmonid-specific whole-genome duplication event. Ecology and Evolution.;13(4):e9994; https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.9994 
  2. Phelps MP, Seeb L, Seeb J. 2019. Transforming ecology and conservation biology through genome editing. Conservation Biology., 34(1):54–65.; https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13292 
  3. Pellenz S*, Phelps MP*, Tang W, Hovde B, Sinit R, Fu W, Li H, Chen E, Monnat R. 2019. New human chromosomal sites with “safe harbor” potential for targeted transgene insertion. Human Gene Therapy. 30(7): 814-812; https://doi.org/10.1089/hum.2018.169 
  4. Phelps MP, Yang H°, Patel S°, Rahman MM, McFadden G, Chen E. 2018. Oncolytic virus-mediated RAS targeting in rhabdomyosarcoma. Molecular Therapy Oncolytics. 11 (2018): 52-61; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.omto.2018.09.001 
  5. Bengtsson NE, Hall JK, Odom GL, Phelps MP, Andrus CR, Hawkins RD, Hauschka SD, Chamberlain JR, Chamberlain JS. 2017. Muscle-specific CRISPR/Cas9 dystrophin gene editing ameliorates pathophysiology in a mouse model for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Nature Communications. 8:14454; https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms14454 
  6. Phelps MP, Bailey JN°, Vleeshouwer-Neumann T, Chen EY. 2016b. CRISPR screen identifies the NCOR/HDAC3 complex as a major suppressor of differentiation in rhabdomyosarcoma. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 113(52):15090-15095; https://www.pnas.org/doi/abs/10.1073/pnas.1610270114 
  7. Phelps M, Stuelsatz P, Yablonka-Reuveni Z. 2016a. Expression profile and overexpression outcome indicate a role for BKlotho in skeletal muscle fibro/adipogenesis. The FEBS Journal. 283(9):1653-68; https://doi.org/10.1111/febs.13682 
  8. Phelps M., Pettan-Brewer C., Ladiges W., Yablonka-Reuveni, Z. 2013b. Decline in muscle strength and running endurance in klotho deficient C57BL/6 mice. Biogerontology, 14(6): 729-39; https://doi.org/10.1007/s10522-013-9447-2 
  9. Phelps M.P., Jaffe I.M., Bradley T.M. 2013a. Muscle growth in teleost fish is regulated by factors utilizing the activin II B receptor. Journal of Experimental Biology., 216:3742-3750; https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.086660 
  10. Medeiros E.F., Phelps M.P., Fuentes F.D., Bradley T.M. 2009. Overexpression of follistatin in trout stimulates increased muscling. American Journal Physiology Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology., 297(1): R235-242; https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpregu.91020.2008