The thymus is a vertebrate-specific organ where T lymphocytes are generated. Genetic programs that lead to thymus development are incompletely understood. We previously screened ethylnitrosourea-induced medaka mutants for recessive defects in thymus development. Here we report that one of those mutants is caused by a missense mutation in a gene encoding the previously uncharacterized protein WDR55 carrying the tryptophan-aspartate-repeat motif. We find that WDR55 is a novel nucleolar protein involved in the production of ribosomal RNA (rRNA). Defects in WDR55 cause aberrant accumulation of rRNA intermediates and cell cycle arrest. A mutation in WDR55 in zebrafish also leads to analogous defects in thymus development, whereas WDR55-null mice are lethal before implantation. These results indicate that WDR55 is a nuclear modulator of rRNA synthesis, cell cycle progression, and embryonic organogenesis including teleost thymus development.