Edwin L. Ferguson, PhD

The lab approaches questions of pattern formation and cell fate specification in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Our current interests are the mechanisms underlying the patterning of the embryonic dorsal-ventral (D/V) axis and the asymmetric self-renewal divisions of adult stem cells.



The main focus of lab has been on the role of the Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) family member Decapentaplegic (Dpp) in patterning the D/V axis. Over the years, my laboratory discovered the conservation of dorsal-ventral patterning mechanisms between arthropods and chordates, identified the function of the Spemann organizer in Xenopus, showed that a non-linear feedback circuit resulted in a bistable pattern of BMP signaling during Drosophila D/V patterning, identified a genetic network that confers robustness to the D/V patterning system in Drosophila, and was involved in a collaboration to demonstrate that spatial-temporal changes in the BMP gradient drove morphological changes during Dipteran evolution.



We have also investigated the processes responsible for the maintenance of the germ line stem cells (GSCs) in the adult ovary. The GSCs are present in a niche composed of non-dividing somatic cells, and these cells secrete BMP ligands necessary for GSC maintenance. The GSC has high levels of BMP signaling, while its sister cell, the Cystoblast, has low levels of BMP signaling and begins the process of differentiation. We have identified multiple redundant mechanisms that aid in creating this dichotomy in BMP signaling between sister cells. In particular, we have shown that interactions between the GSC and the surrounding niche cells create an intrinsic polarity in the GSC that both controls the plane of GSC division and elevates responsiveness to Dpp within the GSC. Recently, we have shown that GSCs can be maintained in the niche with very low levels of BMP signaling, which has implications for stem cell maintenance during aging.

University of California, Berkeley
Postdoc - Genetics
1992

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute &
Ph.D. - Genetics
1985

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
B.S. - Electrical Engineering
1976

B.S. - Biology
1976

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Functional evolution of a morphogenetic gradient.
Kwan CW, Gavin-Smyth J, Ferguson EL, Schmidt-Ott U. Functional evolution of a morphogenetic gradient. Elife. 2016 12 22; 5.
PMID: 28005004

zen and the art of phenotypic maintenance: canalization of embryonic dorsal-ventral patterning in Drosophila.
Gavin-Smyth J, Ferguson EL. zen and the art of phenotypic maintenance: canalization of embryonic dorsal-ventral patterning in Drosophila. Fly (Austin). 2014; 8(3):170-5.
PMID: 25482877

A genetic network conferring canalization to a bistable patterning system in Drosophila.
Gavin-Smyth J, Wang YC, Butler I, Ferguson EL. A genetic network conferring canalization to a bistable patterning system in Drosophila. Curr Biol. 2013 Nov 18; 23(22):2296-2302.
PMID: 24184102

Niche-associated activation of rac promotes the asymmetric division of Drosophila female germline stem cells.
Lu W, Casanueva MO, Mahowald AP, Kato M, Lauterbach D, Ferguson EL. Niche-associated activation of rac promotes the asymmetric division of Drosophila female germline stem cells. PLoS Biol. 2012; 10(7):e1001357.
PMID: 22802725

SMAD signaling drives heart and muscle dysfunction in a Drosophila model of muscular dystrophy.
Goldstein JA, Kelly SM, LoPresti PP, Heydemann A, Earley JU, Ferguson EL, Wolf MJ, McNally EM. SMAD signaling drives heart and muscle dysfunction in a Drosophila model of muscular dystrophy. Hum Mol Genet. 2011 Mar 01; 20(5):894-904.
PMID: 21138941

Wnt and EGF pathways act together to induce C. elegans male hook development.
Yu H, Seah A, Herman MA, Ferguson EL, Horvitz HR, Sternberg PW. Wnt and EGF pathways act together to induce C. elegans male hook development. Dev Biol. 2009 Mar 15; 327(2):419-32.
PMID: 19154732

EEL-1, a Hect E3 ubiquitin ligase, controls asymmetry and persistence of the SKN-1 transcription factor in the early C. elegans embryo.
Page BD, Diede SJ, Tenlen JR, Ferguson EL. EEL-1, a Hect E3 ubiquitin ligase, controls asymmetry and persistence of the SKN-1 transcription factor in the early C. elegans embryo. Development. 2007 Jun; 134(12):2303-14.
PMID: 17537795

Spatial bistability of Dpp-receptor interactions during Drosophila dorsal-ventral patterning.
Wang YC, Ferguson EL. Spatial bistability of Dpp-receptor interactions during Drosophila dorsal-ventral patterning. Nature. 2005 Mar 10; 434(7030):229-34.
PMID: 15759004

Germline stem cell number in the Drosophila ovary is regulated by redundant mechanisms that control Dpp signaling.
Casanueva MO, Ferguson EL. Germline stem cell number in the Drosophila ovary is regulated by redundant mechanisms that control Dpp signaling. Development. 2004 May; 131(9):1881-90.
PMID: 15105369

The DSmurf ubiquitin-protein ligase restricts BMP signaling spatially and temporally during Drosophila embryogenesis.
Podos SD, Hanson KK, Wang YC, Ferguson EL. The DSmurf ubiquitin-protein ligase restricts BMP signaling spatially and temporally during Drosophila embryogenesis. Dev Cell. 2001 Oct; 1(4):567-78.
PMID: 11703946

View All Publications

Biological Sciences Division Distinguished Educator and Mentor Award
2011

Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching
2009

Senior Scholar Award in Aging, Ellison Medical Foundation
2008 - 2011

Cancer Research Foundation Fletcher Scholar
2000 - 2001

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences
1993 - 1997

Helen Hay Whitney Postodctoral Fellowship
1987 - 1990