William Robert Engels did research on genetics at the University of Wisconsin until his retirement in 2018. He was born in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and took his education and scientific training at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. As a graduate student, Engels inherited a fly lab from a soon-to-retire geneticist and used it to help clarify the genetic basis of hybrid dysgenesis in Drosophila, a syndrome of genetic instability activated by certain types of crosses. He received his Ph.D. in 1978 and joined the Genetics Department faculty in 1983. Starting in the 1990s, Engels?s research became focused on the repair of DNA double-strand breaks in Drosophila. He studied how cells “choose” which of several repair mechanisms to utilize for a particular break. Along the way, Engels retained an interest in theoretical population genetics and genetic statistics, and worked on a variety of problems in these areas. He received the Pound Research Award in 1988 and the Kellett Mid-Career Award in 2008.

Research Interests

William Robert Engels and his lab group studied transposable genetic elements and DNA repair in Drosophila. Their early work led to the identification of P transposable elements and their idiosyncratic regulatory system as the underlying cause of hybrid dysgenesis. In the process, the Engels group developed technology in which P elements are used to manipulate and study the Drosophila genome. They also found that P elements can spread rapidly through a Drosophila population by utilizing the cell's DNA repair mechanism to increase their copy number. This ability to invade populations is a by-product of the transposition process. The Engels lab then examined how Drosophila germ cells select which among several alternative repair mechanisms will be applied to a given double-strand DNA break. They found that this choice is sensitive to the organism's age and to where in the genome the break occurred. Engels's theoretical work focuses on population genetics and genetic statistics, especially discrete-value statistical methods applied to genetics.

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Primary Section

Section 26: Genetics