McFall-Ngai joined the institution in January, 2022, from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, where she was a professor at the Pacific Biosciences Research Center’s Kewalo Marine Laboratory and the center’s director emerita.

McFall-Ngai is a recognized thought leader regarding the cornerstone role microbiology plays in the life sciences. Her research specializes in beneficial relationships between animals and bacteria, including the establishment and maintenance of symbiosis, the evolution of these interactions, and how they affect the animal’s health.

Much of her work has concerned the relationship between the bobtail squid and the luminescent bacterium Vibrio fischeri, which colonizes the nocturnal cephalopod and allows it to camouflage itself by Moon- and starlight to hunt and escape predators. Using this association as a model, she has been able to elucidate many details about how the microbiome shapes various aspects of animal life, including development and longevity.

This expertise aligns with both longstanding and new scientific initiatives spearheaded by Carnegie scientists across disciplines. Additionally, her research philosophy is providing an innovative framework by which Carnegie can position its longstanding experties to define a new research paradigm.

She will also oversee the development and construction of a new state-of-the-art research facility in Pasadena, California, that will be home to the division.

McFall-Ngai was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2010, a Caltech Moore Scholar between 2011 and 2013, and an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University between 2010 and 2016. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Microbiology.

She received her undergraduate degree in biology from the University of San Francisco and her Ph.D. in the same from UCLA.

Research Interests

Hawaiian bobtail squid purchased from Shutterstock

Major Questions

  1. With each generation, how does the animal harvest the often rare symbiont from the environment upon birth or hatching?

  2. How do the host and symbiont recognize one another?

  3. How does the bacterial partner influence the developmental program of the host?

  4. How is stability achieved and maintained in the mature association?

  5. What are the principal differences between how an animal interacts with pathogenic bacterial species and beneficial ones?


Recent Publications