Mariana Federica Wolfner

Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow


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. She serves on several Editorial and Biology-organizations’ Boards, and on Study Sections. She is also a Hunter Rawlings faculty fellow at Cornell’s Alice Cook House.

For further information about the Wolfner lab’s research, please see:

Research Focus

Our lab uses molecular biology and genetics to dissect the important reproductive processes that occur around the time when a sperm fertilizes an egg. We use the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, for most of our work. Drosophila reproduction and development can be readily studied with molecular biology, genetic and genomic techniques. Furthermore, Drosophila serves as a model for other animal systems. Many of the genes and reproductive/developmental phenomena in flies have counterparts or analogues in other animals, including humans and insect vectors of disease.
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. For example, they increase the female’s egg-production, make the female less likely to mate again, affect her feeding and sleep behaviors and her longevity, and cause her to store and maintain sperm that she received in the mating. 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. An activated egg completes meiosis, fuses its genetic material with that of the sperm, and begins the mitotic (cleavage) divisions. Although in many organisms the trigger for egg activation is fertilization, in insects egg activation is triggered by passage through the female’s reproductive tract. 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.

For details about the lab and our research please see:

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