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William McGinnis


One major research interest of our lab is the regulation of transcription patterns of Hox genes in animal embryos. Hox gene expression patterns determine the morphological features that develop on the anterior posterior axis of animal embryos, and how Hox expression patterns are regulated are critical to their developmental functions, as well as the evolutionary diversity in form that arises in different animal embryos. One current specific interest is how distant Hox enhancer-promoter interactions regulate transcriptional activation of Hox genes in Drosophila embryos. We have developed methods to detect transcriptional activation patterns of many genes simultaneously in individual nuclei, and at the same time detect mRNA molecules from individual genes, as well as the DNA regulatory sequences that activate transcription from those genes, in individual nuclei in which the genes are activated or repressed.

We are also exploring the genes underlying a signaling pathway that controls regeneration of animal epidermis after wounding, using Drosophila as a model system. This pathway, which involves the activation and repression of thousands of genes that regulate epidermal regeneration, can be activated by sterile puncture wounds of fly embryos. Genetic screens are identifying new components in the wound response pathway, including the extracellular signals and receptors that instruct cells around wounds to initiate epidermal barrier repair. New methods to visualize wound activated gene regulation are also being developed.


  • Mace, K.A., Pearson, J.C., and McGinnis, W. (2005) An epidermal barrier wound repair pathway in Drosophila is mediated by grainy head. Science 308: 381-385.
  • Lemons, D. and McGinnis W. (2006) Genomic evolution of Hox gene clusters, Science 313, 1918-1922.
  • Pearson, J.C., Juarez, M.T., Kim, M., McGinnis, W. (2009) Multiple Transcription Factor Codes Activate Epidermal Wound Response Genes in Drosophila. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 106: 2224-2229. PMCID: PMC2630199
  • Paré, A., Lemons, D., Kosman, D., Beaver, W., Freund, Y., and McGinnis, W. (2009) Counting Hox transcripts within single cells in Drosophila embryos: evidence for transcriptional bursting. Curr. Biol. 19: 2037-2042. PMCID: PMC2805773
  • Hsia, C. and McGinnis, W. (2010) Silencing of an abdominal Hox gene during embryonic development is correlated with limb development in posterior regions of a crustacean trunk. Evolution Devel. 12: 131-143. PMCID: PMC289388
  • Lemons, D., Fritzenwanker, J.H., Gerhart J., Lowe, C.J., McGinnis, W. (2010) Co-option of an anteroposterior head axis gene network for proximodistal patterning of appendages in early bilaterian evolution. Devel. Biol. 344: 358-362. PMCID: PMC2909331


Bill McGinnis received his Ph.D from UC Berkeley in 1982 and was a Jane Coffin Childs postdoctoral fellow at the University of Basel. From 1984 to 1995, he was on the faculty of Yale University. He received a Searle Scholar Award, a Presidential Young Investigator Award, and a Dreyfuss Teacher/Scholar Award. In 2010, Dr. McGinnis was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.