Mariana Federica Wolfner is Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University. Born in Venezuela and raised in New York City, she attended Cornell (B.A. in genetics and chemistry), Stanford (Ph.D. in biochemistry), and U. California San Diego (postdoc). Her graduate and postdoctoral work molecularly-identified critical genes in Drosophila’s steroid-response and in sex determination, respectively. At Cornell, Dr. Wolfner and her mentees use molecular genetics to dissect how males’ seminal proteins modulate the physiology, behavior, and longevity of mated female insects, and how these molecules and interactions evolve. The Wolfner lab also discovered the conserved and insect-specific molecules that that “activate” insect eggs “activate” to initiate embryogenesis. Dr. Wolfner has mentored 41 graduate students (plus 8 visiting students), 30 postdoctoral scholars, and ~90 undergraduate or high school students in research. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, she has received awards for her research, teaching and mentorship. She serves on multiple Editorial Boards, grants panels, and Boards of scientific societies. At Cornell she has been Associate Chair of department, Director of Graduate Studies in Genetics and Development, and faculty-elected Trustee.

Research Interests

In one of our research areas, we dissect roles of seminal fluid proteins in post-mating responses in females. Seminal proteins induce changes in mated females in all taxa tested. We aim to understand at the molecular level how these male proteins cause changes in females, and how this inter-animal interaction and its molecules evolve. We study the genetic model-insect Drosophila and (with L. Harrington) the dengue/Zika-vector mosquito Aedes aegypti. Now that we know the complete suite of seminal proteins in Drosophila, we are investigating the receptors and pathways through which they act in the female. We focus primarily on a seminal protein that stimulates the female insect to ovulate, and on another that binds to sperm and induces gut growth, sperm storage and other effects in the female. With A. Clark we examine female genetic contributions to sperm-competition/preference in multiple-mating situations. Finally, we dissect the molecular signals that "activate" an oocyte to initiate embryo development. We showed that Drosophila oocytes activate by taking up calcium via a conserved mechanically-gated ion channel. Our genetics, proteomics, and X-ray fluorescence microscopy identify conserved proteins and ionic changes that alter the proteome, transcriptome, and cell cycle during the transition from egg to embryo.

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Primary Section

Section 26: Genetics

Secondary Section

Section 27: Evolutionary Biology