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William McGinnis


One major research interest is the genetic control of architectural patterns in developing embryos. We focus principally on the Hox genes, which control morphology on the anterior-posterior body axis, and we are interested in how Hox genes and proteins have changed during evolution to alter animal shapes. As part of this analysis, we are developing new methods to map transcriptional activation patterns of many genes simultaneously in individual nuclei, count the number of mRNA molecules in individual cells, and detect DNA regulatory sequences and their protein regulators in individual nuclei.

We are also exploring the genes underlying an epidermal wound response pathway in Drosophila melanogaster. This evolutionarily conserved pathway can be activated by sterile puncture wounds, or by loss of Hox function. The transcription factors encoded by the grainy head and fos-D genes are critical components of this pathway. Genetic screens are identifying new components in the wound response pathway, including the extracellular signals and receptors that instruct cells surrounding wounds to initiate epidermal barrier repair.


  • 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.