Prof. Mariana Wolfner

Principal Investigator


Professor of Developmental Biology 

Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow

Awards and Honors

  • Goldwin Smith Professor of Molecular Biology & Genetics (2013) Cornell University

  • Elected Vice-Chair (2015), then Chair (2017) GRC on Fertilization & Activation of Devt. (2017) Gordon Research Conferences

  • Distinguished Lecture (2012) Huck Institute, Penn State Univ.

  • Kendall S. Carpenter Memorial Award (2012) Cornell University

  • Lady Davis Fellow (2010) Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Mariana Federica Wolfner is the Goldwin Smith Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics, and a Stephen H. Weiss fellow. Her research focuses on understanding, at the molecular/gene level, the important reproductive processes that occur around the time when a sperm fertilizes an egg. Using the Drosophila model, the Wolfner laboratory studies the molecular signals that "activate" an oocyte to begin embryo development and also studies how seminal proteins modulate the reproductive physiology and behavior of female insects. Mariana’s primary teaching areas are in Development & Evolution, and Developmental Genetics. Mariana has a B.A. in Biology and Chemistry from Cornell, a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Stanford, and she did postdoctoral work at UC San Diego. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and has received awards and recognition for her research, teaching and advising.

Research description

Our lab uses molecular biology and genetics to dissect the important reproductive processes that occur around the time when a sperm fertilizes an egg. In one project we focus on the actions of seminal proteins that female flies receive from the males with which they mate. These proteins modify the behavior and reproductive physiology of the mated female.

We aim to understand at the molecular level how these male proteins cause changes in females. We know the suite of ~200 seminal proteins and have identified ones that induce specific post-mating responses. We study how they act through neurological or molecular pathways, or by binding to female or sperm proteins. In collaboration with our colleague Andy Clark we examine the regulators of sperm competition, a process related to the action of seminal proteins. We also aim to apply our research on Drosophila seminal proteins to the understanding of reproduction of insect vectors of disease. We are doing this by studying Aedes mosquitoes, in collaboration with our colleague Laura Harrington.

We also wish to discover the molecular signals that “activate” an oocyte to initiate embryo development. With T. Aigaki (Tokyo Metro U.) we showed that calcium enters the egg during this process, and a wave of increased calcium then traverses the activating egg. Using genetics and proteomics we are identifying conserved proteins that are essential for the transition from egg-to-embryo, including several that modulate transcriptome dynamics during this process. 

Teaching and Mentoring

I consider teaching and mentoring – in classes, in the research lab, and through informal interactions – to be a very important way in which I can also contribute professionally (and, I love it!). My goal is to transmit to students the latest exciting findings in biology, the ability to read and critique the scientific literature, and the joy in uncovering and interrelating biological concepts. I strive to interact with each students as an individual, whether in the classroom, lab, or in informal interactions.

Classroom teaching

I currently teach: 

  • Development and Evolution (BioMG4610) 

  • Developmental Genetics (BioMG6780)

I consider individualized one-on-one teaching/mentoring in the laboratory to be as important as my classroom teaching. My lab includes undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and staff; ~10-15 researchers in total. As their mentor I work to be a supportive, informed, and enthusiastic guide and collaborator, as we together come up with interesting questions and craft ways to address those, critique results, and work on skills like scientific presentations, etc. 

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