David R. McClay

Arthur S. Pearse Professor of Biology in Trinity College of Arts and Sciences

4102 French Science Center, Science Dr., Durham, NC 27708
Campus Box: 
Box 90338, Department Of Biology, Durham, NC 27708-1000
(919) 613-8188
We ask how the embryo works. Prior to morphogenesis the embryo specifies each cell through transcriptional regulation and signaling. Our research builds gene regulatory networks to understand how that early specification works. We then ask how this specification programs cells for their morphogenetic movements at gastrulation, and how the cells deploy patterning information. Current projects examine 1) novel signal transduction mechanisms that establish and maintain embryonic boundaries mold the embryo at gastrulation; 2) specification of primary mesenchyme cells in such a way that they are prepared to execute an epithelial-mesenchymal transition, and then study mechanistically the regulation of that transition; 3) the specification of endoderm necessary for invagination of the archenteron; 4) formation of the oral/aboral ectoderm and the means by which patterning information is distributed three dimensionally around the embryo. That information is necessary for patterning and inducing skeletogenesis. Other projects examine neural tube folding with the goal of identifying genes associated with neural tube defects. Finally, a large current effort in systems biology is being expended with the goal of enlarging our knowledge of early networks and how they interact.


  • Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 1971

  • M.S., University of Vermont 1965

  • B.S., Pennsylvania State University 1963

McClay, DR, Miranda, E, and Feinberg, SL. "Neurogenesis in the sea urchin embryo is initiated uniquely in three domains." Development (Cambridge, England) 145, no. 21 (November 9, 2018). Full Text

Martik, ML, and McClay, DR. "New insights from a high-resolution look at gastrulation in the sea urchin, Lytechinus variegatus." Mechanisms of Development 148 (December 2017): 3-10. Full Text

McClay, D. "Reprint of: In Memoriam - Eric H. Davidson (1937–2015)." Developmental Biology 412, no. 2 (April 2016): S1-S2. Full Text

Israel, JW, Martik, ML, Byrne, M, Raff, EC, Raff, RA, McClay, DR, and Wray, GA. "Comparative Developmental Transcriptomics Reveals Rewiring of a Highly Conserved Gene Regulatory Network during a Major Life History Switch in the Sea Urchin Genus Heliocidaris." PLoS biology 14, no. 3 (March 4, 2016): e1002391-. Full Text

Warner, JF, Miranda, EL, and McClay, DR. "Contribution of hedgehog signaling to the establishment of left-right asymmetry in the sea urchin." Developmental biology 411, no. 2 (March 2016): 314-324. Full Text

McClay, DR. "Sea Urchin Morphogenesis." Current topics in developmental biology 117 (January 7, 2016): 15-29. (Review) Full Text

Martik, ML, Lyons, DC, and McClay, DR. "Developmental gene regulatory networks in sea urchins and what we can learn from them." F1000research 5 (January 2016). (Review) Full Text

McClay, D. "Eric H. Davidson (1937–2015)." Developmental biology 406, no. 2 (October 2015): 107-108. Full Text


Selected Grants

Embryonic Cell Recognition: Specificity Determinants awarded by National Institutes of Health (Principal Investigator). 1980 to 2023

Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Training Program awarded by National Institutes of Health (Mentor). 2005 to 2021

How Gene Regulatory Networks Connect to Development awarded by California Institute of Technology (Principal Investigator). 2009 to 2019

Lightsheet Imaging System awarded by National Institutes of Health (Major User). 2016 to 2017

Illumina Hi-Seq 2000 Sequencing System awarded by National Institutes of Health (Major User). 2012 to 2013

Mechanism of a novel cause of spina bifida awarded by National Institutes of Health (Consultant). 2009 to 2012

Live cell widefield fluorescence microscope with activation and bleaching lasers awarded by National Institutes of Health (Major User). 2010 to 2011

Germ Layer Specification awarded by National Institutes of Health (Principal Investigator). 1999 to 2008

Neural Tube Defects awarded by National Institutes of Health (Principal Investigator). 2001 to 2007

BMP signaling in mammalian neural tube development awarded by National Institutes of Health (Collaborator). 2001 to 2004