John Wallingford, professor of molecular biosciences at The University of Texas at Austin, has been awarded a fellowship by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
Wallingford studies the intricacies of embryonic development at the intersection of gene expression and specialized cell behaviors. His research seeks to understand lethal birth defects through an approach that combines systems biology and bioinformatics with novel strategies for imaging living organisms.
Congenital birth defects remain a leading cause of death for children under the age of one in the United States. For those under age 24, congenital birth defects are twice as lethal as cancer.
The Guggenheim Memorial Foundation chose 180 recipients from across 51 scholarly and artistic fields for this year's fellowships. Each year, recipients are chosen through a rigorous application and peer review process. A gift from a former fellow will help support Wallingford's fellowship, which was partially underwritten by Park S. Nobel, a 1973 Guggenheim Fellow.
Wallingford plans to write a book for the general public exploring developmental biology, birth defects and genetic variations that lead to extraordinary bodies that were once called abnormalities. The book will explore the history of the study of human embryonic development and developmental biology, as well as the historical and cultural contexts of birth defects and extreme genetic variation.
"Ultimately, the genetic, biochemical and biomechanical processes that drive embryonic development are altered in lethal human birth defects, yet the very same processes effect the magnificent diversity of human forms," Wallingford said. "Even among the pediatricians, geneticists, epidemiologists and disability scholars concerned with these issues, this most basic reality of developmental biology is poorly appreciated. The public's understanding is even more limited."
Wallingford is the former president of the Society for Developmental Biology and holds the Mr. and Mrs. Robert P. Doherty, Jr. Regents Chair in Molecular Biology.