MCB Faculty

Carolyn Phillips

Gabilan Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences

Contact Information
Phone: (213) 740-2165
Office: RRI 304B

Personal Website


  • B.S. Biological Sciences, University of California - Davis, 2001
  • Ph.D. Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California - Berkeley, 2007

  • Postdoctoral Training

    • Marion Abbe Fellow of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School , 2008-2014  

    Description of Research

    Summary Statement of Research Interests
    Small RNA pathways protect the genome against foreign RNAs, such as viruses, in addition to regulating many endogenous RNAs, including aberrant transcripts, pseudogenes, and non-coding regions. The Phillips lab uses genetics, cell biology, and biochemistry to understand how RNA silencing pathways modulate gene expression and maintain genome integrity. Small RNAs are generally ~20-30 nucleotides in length and associate with an Argonaute protein. There are three major classes of small RNAs – microRNAs (miRNAs), small-interfering RNAs (siRNAs), and Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs), which are defined by their mode of biogenesis, protein cofactors, and mechanism of action. We and others have identified a group of genes (the mutator class) that are required for RNA interference (RNAi), transposon silencing, and production of endogenous siRNAs (endo-siRNAs) in the nematode, C. elegans. The mutator genes act downstream of primary siRNAs (produced by the endoribonuclease, Dicer) and piRNAs, and are required for the production of 22-nt “secondary” siRNAs. Our research will have important implications in the understanding of how RNA silencing pathways inhibit transposon movement and repress aberrant RNAs to prevent deleterious gene mutations that can result in infertility, birth defects, as well cancer and other diseases.

    Affiliations with Research Centers, Labs, and Other Institutions

    • USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, Associate Member of the Molecular Genetics Program,


    Book Chapter
    • Phillips, C. M., McDonald, K. L., Dernburg, A. F. (2009). Cytological analysis of meiosis in Caenorhabditis elegans. (Vol. 558). pp. 171-95. Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.). PubMed Web Address

    Journal Article
    • Phillips, C. M., Brown, K. C., Montgomery, B. E., Ruvkun, G., Montgomery, T. A. (2015). piRNAs and piRNA-Dependent siRNAs Protect Conserved and Essential C. elegans Genes from Misrouting into the RNAi Pathway. Developmental cell. Vol. 34 (4), pp. 457-65. PubMed Web Address
    • Phillips, C. M., Montgomery, B. E., Breen, P. C., Roovers, E. F., Rim, Y. S., Ohsumi, T. K., Newman, M. A., van, J. C., Ketting, R. F., Ruvkun, G., Montgomery, T. A. (2014). MUT-14 and SMUT-1 DEAD box RNA helicases have overlapping roles in germline RNAi and endogenous siRNA formation. Current biology : CB. Vol. 24 (8), pp. 839-44. PubMed Web Address
    • Phillips, C. M., Montgomery, T. A., Breen, P. C., Ruvkun, G. (2012). MUT-16 promotes formation of perinuclear mutator foci required for RNA silencing in the C. elegans germline. Genes & development. Vol. 26 (13), pp. 1433-44. PubMed Web Address
    • Montgomery, T. A., Rim, Y. S., Zhang, C., Dowen, R. H., Phillips, C. M., Fischer, S. E., Ruvkun, G. (2012). PIWI associated siRNAs and piRNAs specifically require the Caenorhabditis elegans HEN1 ortholog henn-1. PLoS genetics. Vol. 8 (4), pp. e1002616. PubMed Web Address
    • Zhang, C., Montgomery, T. A., Gabel, H. W., Fischer, S. E., Phillips, C. M., Fahlgren, N., Sullivan, C. M., Carrington, J. C., Ruvkun, G. (2011). mut-16 and other mutator class genes modulate 22G and 26G siRNA pathways in Caenorhabditis elegans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Vol. 108 (4), pp. 1201-8. PubMed Web Address
    • Sato, A., Isaac, B., Phillips, C. M., Rillo, R., Carlton, P. M., Wynne, D. J., Kasad, R. A., Dernburg, A. F. (2009). Cytoskeletal forces span the nuclear envelope to coordinate meiotic chromosome pairing and synapsis. Cell. Vol. 139 (5), pp. 907-19. PubMed Web Address
    • Phillips, C. M., Meng, X., Zhang, L., Chretien, J. H., Urnov, F. D., Dernburg, A. F. (2009). Identification of chromosome sequence motifs that mediate meiotic pairing and synapsis in C. elegans. Nature cell biology. Vol. 11 (8), pp. 934-42. PubMed Web Address
    • Phillips, C. M., Dernburg, A. F. (2006). A family of zinc-finger proteins is required for chromosome-specific pairing and synapsis during meiosis in C. elegans. Developmental cell. Vol. 11 (6), pp. 817-29. PubMed Web Address
    • Phillips, C. M., Wong, C., Bhalla, N., Carlton, P. M., Weiser, P., Meneely, P. M., Dernburg, A. F. (2005). HIM-8 binds to the X chromosome pairing center and mediates chromosome-specific meiotic synapsis. Cell. Vol. 123 (6), pp. 1051-63. PubMed Web Address
    • MacQueen, A. J., Phillips, C. M., Bhalla, N., Weiser, P., Villeneuve, A. M., Dernburg, A. F. (2005). Chromosome sites play dual roles to establish homologous synapsis during meiosis in C. elegans. Cell. Vol. 123 (6), pp. 1037-50. PubMed Web Address
    • Collins-Schramm, H. E., Phillips, C. M., Operario, D. J., Lee, J. S., Weber, J. L., Hanson, R. L., Knowler, W. C., Cooper, R., Li, H., Seldin, M. F. (2002). Ethnic-difference markers for use in mapping by admixture linkage disequilibrium. American journal of human genetics. Vol. 70 (3), pp. 737-50. PubMed Web Address

  • Department of Biological Sciences
  • University of Southern California
  • Allan Hancock Foundation Building
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0371