Uwe Irion

Evolution of pigment pattern formation in Danio fish

Max Planck Institute for Biology Tübingen
Adjunct faculty in: IMPRS


  • Diploma in Biochemistry, University of Tübingen (1994)
  • PhD University of Cologne (1999)
  • Postdoctoral Researcher at the Gurdon Institute and University of Cambridge, UK (1999-2006)
  • Project Leader at the MPI for Biology Tübingen since 2006

Research Interest

Pigmentation is widespread in the animal kingdom, serving a variety of different functions from thermoregulation to camouflage. Pigmentation patterns are direct targets of natural and sexual selection and therefore of great evolutionary importance. The zebrafish, Danio rerio, an important model organism for basic bio-medical research, has a very conspicuous pattern of horizontal dark and light stripes on the flank and in the anal and tail fins. This pattern is generated by the interactions among three different types of pigment cells (chromatophores) in the skin in combination with influences from the tissue environment. A number of mutations are known that result in patterning defects, several of them affect cell-cell-communication among the chromatophores. Other Danio-species, which are very closely related to zebrafish, show an amazing variety of different pigmentation patterns composed of spots, bars or stripes. The different patterns are produced by the same types of pigment cells, and we infer that altered cell-cell interactions must be responsible for the variation. Therefore, the Danio species group provides an excellent basis to study the evolution of pigment pattern formation in vertebrates, with a well-studied model organism as a starting point. We have established breeding colonies for a number of additional Danio-species in the laboratory and started to use them for experiments, including gene knock-outs with the CRISPR/Cas system, generation of inter-species hybrids and chimeras. This allows us to find commonalities in the patterning mechanisms and to identify differences, which could underlie the pattern variations.










Available PhD Project


Selected Reading

  • Podobnik, M., Frohnhöfer, H.G., Dooley, C.M., Eskova, A., Nüsslein-Volhard, C. and Irion, U., 2020. Evolution of the potassium channel gene Kcnj13 underlies colour pattern diversification in Danio fish. Nat Commun 11, 6230.
  • Eskova, A., Frohnhöfer, H.G., Nüsslein-Volhard, C. and Irion, U., 2020. Galanin signaling in the brain regulates color pattern formation in zebrafish. Curr Biol, 30(2):298-303.e3.
Go to Editor View