William J. McGinnis

University of California, San Diego


Election Year: 2019
Primary Section: 22, Cellular and Developmental Biology
Membership Type: Member

Biosketch

William McGinnis has long studied genetic systems that control the development and regeneration of tissues in animal embryos. He discovered that mammalian homeobox genes that control embryonic development could be identified using the fruit fly Drosophila as a model system. Dr. McGinnis has explored how Hox genes regulate the morphological diversification of embryonic tissues, and how Hox gene expression patterns and protein sequences have changed during evolution to contribute to differing morphology between species. Recently, he and his collaborators have also studied evolutionarily conserved genes that regenerate epidermal barriers after wounding. McGinnis grew up in Warrensburg, Missouri, and graduated from San Jose State University in 1978 with a BS in Biology, and then received his PhD from UC Berkeley in 1982.  After a postdoctoral stint in Switzerland, McGinnis joined the faculty of Yale University, where he remained for 11 years. On the faculty of UC San Diego since 1995, Dr. McGinnis served as Dean of Biological Sciences from 2012-2018. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

The McGinnis laboratory is interested in how long non-coding RNAs in the Hox gene clusters stabilize the expression patterns of Hox genes in cellular regions on the anterior-posterior axis of developing Drosophila embryos. Mutations of such non-coding RNAs can result in ectopic expression of Hox genes, leading to duplication of body parts. Members of his lab also study the genes and pathways that activate wound repair genes after damage to the epidermis in Drosophila. McGinnis and colleagues have found multiple regulatory DNA elements that can sense epidermal punctures 10 or more cell diameters away from the wound edge.  Genetic screens for mutants that disrupt the function of such regulatory elements have allowed the discovery of control proteins and signaling pathways that regulate epidermal wound regeneration in a wide variety of animals. One recent finding is that the Toll pathway is required in epidermal cells to activate wound repair genes in a zone around epidermal puncture sites. Current efforts are focused on using such wound regulatory elements to locally activate embryonic appendage development genes around limb amputations in adult Drosophila, which may help flies regenerate limbs.

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