James Gagnon named as Mario Capecchi Endowed Chair


The School of Biological Sciences has appointed James Gagnon, assistant professor of biology, as the Mario Capecchi Endowed Chair. The prestigious three-year faculty appointment will allow Gagnon to continue his work using gene-editing technology with zebrafish to study vertebrate lineage and cell fate choice, cell signaling and genome engineering. The University of Utah established the chair to honor Utah’s first Nobel laureate, Mario Capecchi, through a generous gift from the George S. & Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation.

“We develop from a single fertilized egg to adults with trillions of cells,” says Gagnon on his lab website. “Embryonic cells talk to each other to coordinate the construction process. Cells are master linguists—they use dozens of different languages, known as cell signaling pathways, to share information across the embryo. Sometimes cells speak multiple languages simultaneously; sometimes they switch languages. During development, cells are also dividing and moving around the embryo. How can we decipher the blueprint for this complex and dynamic construction project?”

The Gagnon Lab builds tools to listen to the languages of the embryo and record them into DNA. They recover these records to understand the construction of an adult animal. Gagnon and his team use a variety of techniques including CRISPR, microscopy, mathematics and single-cell sequencing to tackle these questions in zebrafish.

A Vermont native, Gagnon arrived at the U in January 2018 from Boston where he completed a post-doc at Harvard. He earned his doctorate from Brown University and a bachelor’s degree from Worcester Polytechnic.