Masayuki Onishi

Assistant Professor of Biology

124 Science Dr., Ffsc 3105, Durham, NC 27708
Campus Box: 
130 Science Dr., Box 90338, Durham, NC 27708
(919) 613-7358
The overall goal of the Onishi lab is to understand the fundamental core mechanisms of eukaryotic cell division that have been conserved throughout the evolution from the last eukaryotic common ancestor.  To this end, the lab currently uses the unicellular model green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, which is evolutionarily close to plants yet divide like animals by forming a cleavage furrow.  Strikingly, unlike animals, this organism does not have a non-muscle type-II myosin that has been believed to be essential for furrowing.  In fact, animals, fungi, slime molds, and related species are the exceptions in that they have this myosin motor protein, and the vast majority of the eukaryotes divide by some mechanism that we don't fully understand.  Our work aims to understand how the cells without type-II myosin manage to form a cleavage furrow, which should shed light on the questions such as:
(1) How did the ancestral cells divide?
(2) What was the evolutionary advantage of type-II myosin when it emerged in the select lineage?
(3) How did the unique evolution into modern land plants happen? In the lab, we use the power of genetics, genomics, and molecular and cellular biology.  Specific questions include, but not limited to:
How do the three cytoskeletal systems (actin, microtubules, and septin) contribute to cell division?
What is the involvement of extracellular matrix and the ESCRT system?
How do the known and yet-to-be known genes interact with one another to control cell division?


  • Ph.D., University of Tokyo (Japan) 2006

Cleves, Phillip A., Cory J. Krediet, Erik M. Lehnert, Masayuki Onishi, and John R. Pringle. “Insights into coral bleaching under heat stress from analysis of gene expression in a sea anemone model system.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 117, no. 46 (November 9, 2020): 28906–17. Full Text

Onishi, Masayuki, James G. Umen, Frederick R. Cross, and John R. Pringle. “Cleavage-furrow formation without F-actin in Chlamydomonas.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 117, no. 31 (August 2020): 18511–20. Full Text

Chao, Jesse T., Francisco Piña, Masayuki Onishi, Yifat Cohen, Ya-Shiuan Lai, Maya Schuldiner, and Maho Niwa. “Transfer of the Septin Ring to Cytokinetic Remnants in ER Stress Directs Age-Sensitive Cell-Cycle Re-entry.Developmental Cell 51, no. 2 (October 2019): 173-191.e5. Full Text

Onishi, Masayuki, Kresti Pecani, Taylor Jones, John R. Pringle, and Frederick R. Cross. “F-actin homeostasis through transcriptional regulation and proteasome-mediated proteolysis.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 115, no. 28 (July 2018): E6487–96. Full Text

Wang, Meng, Ryuichi Nishihama, Masayuki Onishi, and John R. Pringle. “Role of the Hof1-Cyk3 interaction in cleavage-furrow ingression and primary-septum formation during yeast cytokinesis.Molecular Biology of the Cell 29, no. 5 (March 2018): 597–609. Full Text

Xiang, Tingting, Robert E. Jinkerson, Sophie Clowez, Cawa Tran, Cory J. Krediet, Masayuki Onishi, Phillip A. Cleves, John R. Pringle, and Arthur R. Grossman. “Glucose-Induced Trophic Shift in an Endosymbiont Dinoflagellate with Physiological and Molecular Consequences.Plant Physiology 176, no. 2 (February 2018): 1793–1807. Full Text

Onishi, Masayuki, and John R. Pringle. “Robust Transgene Expression from Bicistronic mRNA in the Green Alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.G3 (Bethesda, Md.) 6, no. 12 (December 7, 2016): 4115–25. Full Text

Yamasaki, Tomohito, Masayuki Onishi, Eun-Jeong Kim, Heriberto Cerutti, and Takeshi Ohama. “RNA-binding protein DUS16 plays an essential role in primary miRNA processing in the unicellular alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113, no. 38 (September 2016): 10720–25. Full Text

Chin, Cheen Fei, Kaiquan Tan, Masayuki Onishi, YuanYuan Chew, Beryl Augustine, Wei Ren Lee, and Foong May Yeong. “Timely Endocytosis of Cytokinetic Enzymes Prevents Premature Spindle Breakage during Mitotic Exit.Plos Genetics 12, no. 7 (July 22, 2016): e1006195. Full Text

Zhu, Li, Qin Li, Stephen H. K. Wong, Min Huang, Brianna J. Klein, Jinfeng Shen, Larissa Ikenouye, et al. “ASH1L Links Histone H3 Lysine 36 Dimethylation to MLL Leukemia.Cancer Discovery 6, no. 7 (July 2016): 770–83. Full Text


Selected Grants

Cytokinesis without an actomyosin ring: studies in Chlamydomonas awarded by Stanford University (Principal Investigator). 2020 to 2021