Mariana Wolfner
Professor of Developmental Biology
Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow

Mariana Wolfner




Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics
423 Biotechnology Building
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-2703


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Department Profile

Lab Website


Mariana Federica Wolfner is a member of Cornell’s Graduate Fields of Genetics & Development and of Biochemistry, Molecular & Cell Biology. She is also a House Fellow of Cornell’s Alice Cook House. She received a B.A. in Biology (genetics and development) and Chemistry from Cornell in 1974, a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Stanford in 1981, and did postdoctoral work at UC San Diego. Her research is currently supported by NIH, and has previously received support from NSF, HFSP, a DuPont Young Faculty Award, a Basil O'Connor grant from the March of Dimes, Career Advancement and POWRE Awards from the National Science Foundation, and a Faculty Research Award from the American Cancer Society. She has received awards from Cornell for teaching and advising (Robert A. and Donna B. Paul Award, Stephen H. Weiss Fellow) and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She serves on several Editorial and Biology-organizations’ Boards.

Research Description

We are interested in understanding, at the molecular/gene level, the important reproductive processes that occur around the time when a sperm fertilizes an egg. Most of our work uses the Drosophila fruit fly, because of its excellent genetics/genomics, the ease with which its molecular biology, development and reproduction can be studied, and its ability to serve as a model – because many gene products and reproductive/developmental phenomena in Drosophila have counterparts or analogues in other animals, including people, and insect pests.

In one project (detail) we focus on the actions of seminal proteins that female flies receive from the males with which they mate. These male accessory gland proteins proteins (“Acps”) modify the behavior and reproductive physiology of the mated female. They also show unusual evolutionary dynamics, suggesting a potential role in reproductive isolation between species. Action of Acps can facilitate the efficiency or success of reproduction; we consider their action as improving the “ecology” in which the fertilization process occurs. The study of Acp action provides insights into molecular/genetic mechanisms of hormone function, sperm storage, sperm competition and the rapid evolution of many reproductive proteins.

View selected recent papers on Acps and their actions within mated females here.

In another project (detail), we study 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. The trigger for activation differs among organisms –in Drosophila this trigger occurs during ovulation – but the subsequent molecular changes often have commonality across organisms. We are also interested in the proteins whose function, induced by activation, actually starts the embryo’s development. We focus on the product of the "Young Arrest" (YA, fs(1)Ya) gene, which is required to initiate cleavage. YA is a nuclear protein that binds to chromosomes and interacts with lamin, the major constituent of the lamina layer of proteins that underlie the nuclear membranes. We are studying how YA mediates the cell cycle transition from meiosis to mitosis. Moreover, since some inherited diseases in people, such as a form of muscular dystrophy and a form of progeria, are due to mutations in lamin or lamin-associated proteins, it is important to understand the nature and function of developmental modulation of the nuclear lamina – and we use YA as a model for this.

Selected Publications

Selected recent papers on Acps and their actions within mated females:

  • Wolfner, M.F., Applebaum, S. and Heifetz, Y. (2005) Insect gonadal glands and their gene products. Vol. 1, Ch. 1.5 (pp. 179-212) in Comprehensive Insect Physiology, Biochemistry, Pharmacology and Molecular Biology, L. Gilbert, K. Iatrou and S. Gill, eds. Elsevier.
  • Heifetz, Y., Vandenberg, L.N., Cohn, H.I. and Wolfner, M.F. (2005) Two cleavage products of the Drosophila Acp ovulin can independently induce ovulation. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 102, 743-8.
  • Mueller, J.L., Ravi Ram, K., McGraw, L.A., Bloch Qazi, M.C., Siggia, E.D. Clark, A.G., Aquadro, C.F., and Wolfner, M.F.  (2005) Cross-species comparison of Drosophila male accessory gland protein genes. Genetics, in press.
  • Ravi Ram, K., Ji, S. and Wolfner, M.F. (2005) Fates and targets of male accessory gland proteins in mated female Drosophila melanogaster. Insect Biochem. Mol. Biol., 35, 1059-1071.
  • McGraw, L.A., Gibson, G., Clark, A.G. and Wolfner, M.F. (2004) Genes regulated by mating, sperm or seminal proteins in mated female Drosophila melanogaster. Curr. Biol. 14, 1509-1514.
  • Mueller, J.L., Ripoll, D.R., Aquadro, C.F. and Wolfner, M.F. (2004) Comparative structural modeling and inference of conserved protein classes in Drosophila seminal fluid. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 101,13542-7.
  • Heifetz Y. and Wolfner M.F. (2004) Seminal fluid and mating mediate changes in nerve termini innervating the Drosophila reproductive tract. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 101, 6261-6266.
  • Chapman, T., Bangham, J., Vinti, G., Seifried, B., Lung, O., Wolfner, M., Smith, H. and Partridge, L. (2003) The sex peptide of Drosophila melanogaster: investigation of post-mating responses of females using RNA interference. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 100, 9923-9928.
  • Bloch Qazi, M.C. and Wolfner, M.F. (2003) An early role for Drosophila melanogaster male seminal protein Acp36DE in female sperm storage. J. Exp.Biol. 206, 3521-3528.
  • Wolfner, M.F. (2002) The gifts that keep on giving: physiological functions and evolutionary dynamics of male seminal proteins in Drosophila. Heredity, 88, 85-93.
  • Lung, O., Tram, U., Finnerty, C.M., Eipper-Mains, M., Kalb, J.M. and Wolfner, M.F. (2002) The Drosophila melanogaster seminal fluid protein Acp62F is a protease inhibitor that is toxic upon ectopic expression. Genetics 160, 211-224.
  • Swanson, W.J., Clark, A.G., Wolfner, M.F. and Aquadro, C.F. (2001) Evolutionary ESTs, a method to identify rapidly evolving genes, and its application to Drosophila reproductive proteins. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 98, 7375-7379.
  • Chapman, T., Herndon, L.A., Heifetz, Y., Partridge, L., Wolfner, M.F. (2001) The Acp26Aa seminal fluid protein is a modulator of early egg-hatchability in Drosophila melanogaster. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. 268, 1647-1654.
  • Lung, O., Kuo, L. and Wolfner, M.F. (2001) Antibacterial activities made by the Drosophila melanogaster male accessory glands and ejaculatory duct are transferred to females during mating. J. Ins. Physiol. 47, 617-622.
  • Chapman, T., Neubaum. D.M., Wolfner, M.F. and Partridge, L. (2000) The role of male accessory gland protein Acp36DE in sperm competition in Drosophila melanogaster. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond., 267:1097-1105.
  • Heifetz, Y., Lung, O., Frongillo, E.A., and Wolfner, M.F. (2000) The Drosophila seminal fluid protein Acp26Aa stimulates release of oocytes by the ovary. Current Biology 10, 99-102.
  • Lung, O. and Wolfner, M.F. (1999) Drosophila seminal fluid proteins enter the circulatory system through the walls of the posterior vagina. Ins. Bioch. Mol. Biol. 29, 1043-1052.
  • Tram, U. and Wolfner, M.F. (1999) Male seminal fluid proteins are essential for sperm storage in Drosophila melanogaster. Genetics 153, 837-844.
  • Neubaum, D.M. and Wolfner, M.F. (1999) Mated Drosophila females require a seminal fluid protein, Acp36DE, to store sperm efficiently. Genetics 153, 845-857.

Selected recent papers on egg activation, YA, nuclear lamina:

  • Mani, S. S., Rajagopal, R., Garfinkel, A., Fan, X. and Wolfner, M.F. (2003) A hydrophilic lamin-binding domain from the Drosophila YA protein can target proteins to the nuclear envelope. J. Cell Sci. 116, 2067-2072.
  • Bloch Qazi M.C., Heifetz Y. & Wolfner, M.F. (2003) The developments between gametogenesis and fertilization: ovulation and female sperm storage in Drosophila. Devel. Bio. 256, 195-211.
  • Yu, J., Garfinkel A.B. and Wolfner, M.F. (2002) Interaction of the essential Drosophila nuclear protein YA with P0/AP3 in the cytoplasm and in vitr implications for developmental regulation of YA’s subcellular location. Devel. Bio. 244, 429-441.
  • Yu, J. and Wolfner, M.F. (2002) The Drosophila nuclear protein YA binds to DNA and histone H2B with four domains. Mol. Biol. Cell, 13, 558-569.
  • Heifetz, Y., Yu, J. and Wolfner, M.F. (2001) Ovulation triggers egg activation in Drosophila. Devel. Biol. 234, 416-424.
  • Wolfner, M.F. (2001) Nuclear envelope dynamics in Drosophila pronuclear formation and in embryos. in Dynamics of Nuclear Envelope Assembly in Embryos and Somatic Cells, P. Collas, ed. Landes Biosciences Inc., in press.
  • Wolfner M.F. and Wilson, K.L. (2001) The nuclear envelope: emerging roles in development and disease. Cell and Molecular Life Sciences 58, 1737-1740.
  • Yu, J., Song, K., Liu, J., Turner, S. and Wolfner, M.F. (1999) Nuclear entry of the Drosophila melanogaster nuclear lamina protein YA correlates with developmentally regulated changes in its phosphorylation state. Devel. Biol. 210, 124-34.
  • Goldberg, M., Lu, H., Stuurman, N. Ashery-Padan, R. Weiss, A., Yu, J., Bhattacharyya, D., Fisher, P.A., Gruenbaum, Y. and Wolfner, M.F. (1998) Interactions between Drosophila nuclear envelope proteins lamin otefin and YA. Mol. Cell Biol. 18, 4315-4323.