David R. McClay

Arthur S. Pearse Distinguished Professor of Biology

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 - Chapel Hill 1971

  • M.S., University of Vermont 1965

  • B.S., Pennsylvania State University 1963

McClay, D. R. “Methods for embryo dissociation and for studying cell associations using sea urchin material.” Methods of Cell Biology 74 (2004): 311–29.

Wikramanayake, A. H., R. Peterson, J. Chen, L. Huang, D. R. McClay, and W. H. Klein. “Selective expression of Wnt8 in vegetal cells of the early sea urchin embryo mediates endomesoderm specification in a nuclear beta-catenin-dependent manner.” Genesis 39 (2004): 194–205.

Amore, Gabriele, Robert G. Yavrouian, Kevin J. Peterson, Andrew Ransick, David R. McClay, and Eric H. Davidson. “Spdeadringer, a sea urchin embryo gene required separately in skeletogenic and oral ectoderm gene regulatory networks.Developmental Biology 261, no. 1 (September 2003): 55–81. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0012-1606(03)00278-1. Full Text

Oliveri, Paola, Eric H. Davidson, and David R. McClay. “Activation of pmar1 controls specification of micromeres in the sea urchin embryo.Developmental Biology 258, no. 1 (June 2003): 32–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0012-1606(03)00108-8. Full Text

Gross, Jeffrey M., Robert E. Peterson, Shu-Yu Wu, and David R. McClay. “LvTbx2/3: a T-box family transcription factor involved in formation of the oral/aboral axis of the sea urchin embryo.Development (Cambridge, England) 130, no. 9 (May 2003): 1989–99. https://doi.org/10.1242/dev.00409. Full Text

Davidson, Eric H., David R. McClay, and Leroy Hood. “Regulatory gene networks and the properties of the developmental process.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 100, no. 4 (February 10, 2003): 1475–80. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0437746100. Full Text

Peterson, Robert E., and David R. McClay. “Primary mesenchyme cell patterning during the early stages following ingression.Developmental Biology 254, no. 1 (February 2003): 68–78. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0012-1606(02)00025-8. Full Text

Oliveri, P. E., H. Davidson, and D. R. McClay. “Activation of pmar1 controls specification of micromeres in the sea urchin embryo.” Dev. Biol 258 (2003): 25–38.

Davidson, Eric H., Jonathan P. Rast, Paola Oliveri, Andrew Ransick, Cristina Calestani, Chiou-Hwa Yuh, Takuya Minokawa, et al. “A provisional regulatory gene network for specification of endomesoderm in the sea urchin embryo.Developmental Biology 246, no. 1 (June 2002): 162–90. https://doi.org/10.1006/dbio.2002.0635. Full Text

Davidson, Eric H., Jonathan P. Rast, Paola Oliveri, Andrew Ransick, Cristina Calestani, Chiou-Hwa Yuh, Takuya Minokawa, et al. “A genomic regulatory network for development.Science (New York, N.Y.) 295, no. 5560 (March 2002): 1669–78. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1069883. Full Text