Developmental Genetics PhD Training Program | NYU Langone Health

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PhD Training Programs Developmental Genetics PhD Training Program

Developmental Genetics PhD Training Program

NYU Grossman School of Medicine’s Developmental Genetics PhD Training Program brings together investigators from the medical school, the Vilcek Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, and NYU’s Department of Biology to provide a comprehensive program focused on the use of genetic approaches to increase current understanding of developmental mechanisms. Our integrated training program includes specialty areas such as plant and evolutionary biology and vertebrate developmental genetics.


View our integrated curriculum in comparative developmental biology, genetics, and molecular biology.

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Find a mentor in the Developmental Genetics PhD program.

Apply to Our Graduate Program

Find information about applying to the Vilcek Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.


Enrich your experience in our program by participating in events throughout the year.

Students have the opportunity to work with a variety of genetic systems including Drosophila, Caenorhabditis elegans, Bacillus subtilis, yeast, Arabidopsis, ascidians, mouse, chicken, and zebrafish to study diverse developmental processes such as the following:

  • pattern formation
  • cell fate determination
  • gene expression
  • cell-cell signaling
  • cell migration
  • stem cell self-renewal
  • morphogenesis
  • neural circuit formation

To learn more about the Developmental Genetics PhD Training Program, email

Program Leadership

An expert team leads our Developmental Genetics PhD Training Program:

Jessica Treisman, PhD, Program Director
Jesús Torres-Vázquez, PhD, Graduate Advisor

Our Research Specialties

Applying the techniques of developmental genetics to model organisms is a proven approach to revealing the pathological underpinnings of disease. Discoveries in model systems such as B. subtilis, C. elegans, Drosophila, and Arabidopsis have also led to significant advances in biotechnology.

Due to shared homologies among different organisms, results obtained from genetic analysis of one model often become rapidly applicable to others. Examples include the homeobox selector genes in Drosophila and the Ras-signaling pathway in C. elegans, which have provided important insights into patterning and oncogenesis, respectively, in humans and other mammals. Further, the discovery that homeobox genes also regulate patterning in Arabidopsis adds to the increasing evidence that developmental pathways in animals and plants may overlap due to both common ancestry and convergence.

Most of the model organisms are also the subjects of intense genomic analysis, providing the raw material for functional genomic comparisons that are expected to reveal features of developmental processes common to all organisms.

Plant Developmental Genetics

A small flowering plant called Arabidopsis thaliana is widely used by plant science researchers. It is a member of the Brassica family, which includes species such as cabbage and radish. The rapid life cycle and easy cultivation of A. thaliana have allowed researchers to adapt it for use in laboratory studies. Genetic research of this organism is further facilitated by easy transformation methods and many existing mutant lines. The complete sequence of its genome was published at the end of the year 2000.

Faculty working on Arabidopsis include Kenneth Birnbaum, PhD.

Vertebrate Developmental Genetics

Zebrafish are easy to raise and have a short generation time of three months. Females can lay hundreds of eggs at weekly intervals, and embryos develop rapidly, with a beating heart by 24 hours. Because the developing embryos are transparent, they can be easily studied under a dissecting microscope. Rapid development of forward genetics and large-scale mutagenesis techniques has facilitated the use of zebrafish in advancing our understanding of body patterning, neurogenesis, organ development, and many other areas.

Faculty working on zebrafish include Holger Knaut, PhD, and Jesús Torres-Vázquez, PhD.

Mice are the organisms of choice for a mammalian model system. Their relatively short generation time, small size, and large litters offer researchers several important advantages over other mammalian model organisms. The availability of inbred strains and amenability to genetic manipulation, such as gene targeting and production of transgenics, provide additional advantages. Mice have been used to further our knowledge in many areas, including brain development and human disease.

Faculty working on mice include Iannis Aifantis, PhD; Steven Burden, PhD; Jeremy Dasen, PhD; Esteban O. Mazzoni, PhD; Markus Schober, PhD; and Susan Schwab, PhD.

Invertebrate Developmental Genetics

C. elegans is a free-living, nonpathogenic nematode that normally inhabits the soil. Although primitive, this organism exhibits fundamental biological processes common to humans, thereby providing researchers with an invaluable model of study. The cell lineage of C. elegans is largely invariant, and the transparency of the worm reveals each nucleus in the body when viewed under a microscope at high power, allowing the entire lineage to be traced. Genetic manipulations, both forward and reverse, are well developed. Of note, C. elegans was the first multicellular organism to have a fully sequenced genome.

Faculty working on worms include Sevinc Ercan, PhD; David Fitch, PhD; E. Jane Hubbard, PhD; Jeremy Nance, PhD; Fabio Piano, PhD; and Niels Ringstad, PhD.

Drosophila is commonly known as the fruit fly. It has been used as a model system in biology since 1909. Its tremendous history provides an extensive database of genes and mutants that has now been extended by the complete genome sequence. Powerful forward genetics coupled with the ability to make transgenic flies through transposable elements provide a model system that has facilitated our understanding of everything from body patterning to organ development to behavior.

Faculty working on flies include Erika Bach, PhD; Claude Desplan, PhD; Christine Rushlow, PhD; Hyung Don Ryoo, PhD; Mark Siegal, PhD; and Jessica Treisman, PhD.

Ciona intestinalis is an ascidian, a marine invertebrate chordate that belongs to the Tunicate phylum, the closest living relative to the vertebrates. The genome has been sequenced, facilitating molecular studies.

Faculty working on Ciona include Lionel Christiaen, PhD, and Anna Di Gregorio, PhD.

The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a single-cell fungal micro-organism and was the first yeast genome to be sequenced. This organism is key in baking, wine, and beer fermentation. While yeasts in the wild are diploid or polyploid, laboratory strains have mutations that keep them as stable haploids. This allows for easy genetic analysis and manipulation, and for mating and induction of meiosis. Because S. cerevisiae is easily amenable to genetic manipulation, it is an ideal model organism for study.

Faculty working on yeast include Karim-Jean Armache, PhD; Andreas Hochwagen, PhD; and Hannah Klein, PhD.

B. subtilis is a nonpathogenic gram-positive bacterium. It is usually found in the soil, where it can promote plant growth. The biology of B. subtilis spans many processes of interest, including biofilm formation and sporulation. Sporulation is a developmental program triggered by nutrient deprivation, which leads to the formation of metabolically dormant but highly resistant cells called spores. B. subtilis cells are naturally competent, which facilitates the genetic manipulation of the bacterium.

Faculty working on B. subtilis include Patrick Eichenberger, PhD.

Life as a Graduate Student

Get an inside look at what life is like for our graduate students at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.