Research Interests

The major advance in developmental genetics over recent years has been the recognition that all animals share a surprising heritage: the genes that coordinate growth and differentiation. Animals that look very different, such as insects and mammals, nonetheless share regulatory genes that control the placement of structures along the head to tail axis, that organize the nervous system, and that give rise to the heart and musculature. Mutations in such genes can cause, for example, growth of legs in lieu of antennae in flies, or cyclopia or polydactyly in people. My studies have contributed to learning how genes control embryonic development, and to the recognition of some of the evolutionarily conserved features of genetic regulation. One aspect of controlling normal embryonic development is to control growth. My coworkers and I have found that damage to genes required for normal embryonic development can lead to human cancer. Some of the genes that control animal development also play roles in the adult, to limit growth or control regeneration of tissues. Mutations in such genes can lead to cancer, and we found that mutations in one gene we initially studied for its role in fly embryonic development are responsible for the most common human cancer, basal cell carcinoma of the skin. Our current research is directed at exploring signaling systems and gene control systems to learn the molecular mechanisms that underlie both normal development and cancer.

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Primary Section

Section 26: Genetics

Secondary Section

Section 22: Cellular and Developmental Biology