Dr. James A. Kennison is the head of the Section on Drosophila Gene Regulation in the PGD, NICHD. He has a long-standing interest in how cellular diversity is established and maintained. As a confirmed Drosophila geneticist, Dr. Kennison has used the sophisticated genetics of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster to identify and characterize the genes involved in one particular developmental step, the specification of segmental identity in the fly. Segmental identity is specified by the homeotic genes, the Drosophila homologues of the HOX genes of vertebrates. Because the homeotic genes have 100-kb cis-regulatory regions that control their developmental expression patterns, a large number of proteins are required to specify and maintain expression. Two groups of genes that function to maintain patterns of gene activity, the Polycomb and trithorax groups, are conserved between Drosophila and humans and have become the focus of much recent work on epigenetics and cancer.
Dr. Kennison received his B.S. from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and his Ph.D. in biology from the University of California, San Diego, in 1979. Dr. Kennison was a postdoctoral fellow at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain and at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. He was a research associate at the University of Colorado in Boulder before joining the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics of NICHD in 1987. Dr. Kennison has been a member of the Genetics Society of American and the American Drosophila society since 1976. During that time, he has authored numerous scientific papers and review articles.