James Priess is a developmental biologist recognized for his molecular and genetic analysis of embryogenesis of the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans. These studies contributed to an understanding of how early embryonic cells acquire polarity, how various cells are assigned specific fates during development, and how cells assemble into tissues and organs with distinct morphologies. Priess was born and grew up in Wichita, Kansas, and graduated from Wichita State University with degrees in Biology and Chemistry. He obtained a Ph.D. in developmental biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1983 and did postdoctoral studies at the Medical Research Council, Cambridge, England. He joined the faculty at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in 1987, and was an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute from 1999-2011.

Research Interests

The Priess laboratory is interested in how single cells develop into complex, multicellular tissues and organs, and use the genetic and cell biological tools available with the model Caenorhabditis elegans for this research. They have identified several genes that function to polarize the fertilized egg, and that become localized asymmetrically during the first few cell divisions to specify cell fates. Other genes mediate interactions between the early cells that further diversify fates. All of these events operate within the context of a transcription factor, POP-1/TCF, that is localized asymmetrically between all sets of sister cells. This POP-1 asymmetry is reiterated at each cell division and provides, in essence, a spatial and temporal binary code that coordinates development. Their more recent studies have focused on how differentiated cells assemble into tissues with distinctive morphologies, such as tubes and rings, and they have showed a continued role for POP-1 in these late events. Other research interests include the interplay between developing germ cells and viruses that target germ cells.

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Primary Section

Section 26: Genetics

Secondary Section

Section 22: Cellular and Developmental Biology