James A. Kennison PhD

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Jim Kennison, who heads the Section on Drosophila Gene Regulation, studies how genes control cell fates during development. The homeotic genes in Drosophila specify cell identities at both the embryonic and adult stages. They encode homeodomain-containing transcription factors that control cell fates by regulating the transcription of downstream target genes. The homeotic genes are expressed in precise spatial patterns that are crucial for the proper determination of cell fate. Both loss of expression and ectopic expression in the wrong tissues lead to changes in cell fate. These changes provide powerful assays for identifying the trans-acting factors that regulate the homeotic genes and the cis-acting sequences through which they act. Both the homeotic genes and the trans-acting factors that regulate them are conserved between Drosophila and human. In addition to many conserved developmental genes, at least half of the disease- and cancer-causing genes in man are conserved in Drosophila, making Drosophila a particularly important model system for the study of human development and disease.

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