Phillip Cleves’ Ph.D. research was on determining the genetic changes that drive morphological evolution. He used the emerging model organism, the stickleback fish, to map genetic changes that control skeletal evolution. Using new genetic mapping and reverse genetic tools developed during his Ph.D., Cleves identified regulatory changes in a protein called bone morphogenetic protein 6 that were responsible for an evolved increase in tooth number in stickleback. This work illustrated how molecular changes can generate morphological novelty in vertebrates.

Cleves returned to his passion for coral research in his postdoctoral work in John Pringles’ lab at Stanford University, where he developed new genetic methods to study corals and their response to climate change. He focuses on understanding the intracellular symbiotic relationship corals have with dinoflagellate algae. This nutritional symbiosis is critical for the survival of corals in nutrient-poor tropical waters. However, warming oceans caused by climate change has led to the breakdown of this symbiosis, called coral bleaching, resulting in mass mortality of corals worldwide. Cleves wants to understand the genetic and cellular mechanisms controlling this symbiotic relationship and its breakdown due to stress.

 Cleves has developed novel genetic and cellular methods in reef-building corals and a laboratory model organism for coral to address these questions. He applied the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technique in corals on the Great Barrier Reef, which allows for the investigation of gene function in corals for the first time.

 Cleves received a B.S. in biology from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from the University of California, Berkeley, before his postdoctoral work at Stanford University. Cleves has extensive teaching and mentoring experiences and has received numerous prestigious honors and fellowships, including a national Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship as an undergraduate and a Ph.D. fellowship from the NSF GRFP, and he helped secure several national and international funding awards as a postdoc.

Explore Carnegie Science

Artist's conception by Navid Marvi
February 9, 2022

Baltimore, MD— The gut microbiome is an ecosystem of hundreds to thousands of microbial species living within the human body. These populations affect our health, fertility, and even our longevity. But how do they get there in the first place?

New collaborative work led by Carnegie’s William Ludington reveals crucial details about how the bacterial communities that comprise each of our individual gut microbiomes are acquired. These findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have major implications for treatments such as fecal transplants and probiotic administration.

“There is a huge amount of variation in microbiome

Palm trees rise in front of the San Gabriel Mountains.
January 10, 2022

Washington, DC—California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday announced $20 million in his 2023 fiscal year budget to support Carnegie’s new research facility in Pasadena. The proposed budget allocation still must clear the California State Senate and Assembly, which will begin to hold hearings in the coming weeks. It must be adopted by June 15. 

The new 135,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art campus will bring the institution’s life and environmental scientists together in a single location adjacent to Caltech—making a decisive investment in the global fight against climate change. The facility will house more than 200 new hires and relocated staff, who

Margaret McFall-Ngai
November 17, 2021

Washington, DC—Pioneering microbiome specialist Margaret McFall-Ngai has been named the inaugural director of Carnegie’s newly launched research division focused on life and environmental sciences, which will deploy an integrated, molecular-to-global approach to tackling the challenges of sustainability, resilience, and adaptation to a changing climate. McFall-Ngai will join the institution in January, 2022, from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, where she is a professor at the Pacific Biosciences Research Center’s Kewalo Marine Laboratory and the center’s director emerita.

“Margaret’s exemplary research and groundbreaking vision are the

Artist's conception of this research project courtesy of Navid Marvi
July 14, 2021

Baltimore, MD—Carnegie’s Steven Farber was awarded nearly $500,000 over three years by The G. Harold & Leila Y. Mathers Foundation to identify the chemical components of cinnamon oil that show effectiveness against cardiovascular disease-causing fats.

Fat molecules, or lipids, such as cholesterol and triglycerides are shuttled around the circulatory system by a protein called Apolipoprotein-B, together forming complexes of lipid and protein that are called lipoproteins but may be more commonly known as “bad cholesterol.” It can get embedded in the sides of blood vessels and harden, forming a dangerous buildup that makes it more difficult for the heart

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The Zheng lab studies cell division including the study of stem cells, genome organization, and lineage specification. They study the mechanism of genome organization in development, homeostasis—metabolic balance-- and aging; and the influence of cell morphogenesis, or cell shape and steructure,  on cell fate decisions. They use a wide range of tools and systems, including genetics in model organisms, cell culture, biochemistry, proteomics, and genomics.


The Spradling laboratory studies the biology of reproduction. By unknown means eggs reset the normally irreversible processes of differentiation and aging. The fruit fly Drosophila provides a favorable multicellular system for molecular genetic studies. The lab focuses on several aspects of egg development, called oogenesis, which promises to provide insight into the rejuvenation of the nucleus and surrounding cytoplasm. By studying ovarian stem cells, they are learning how cells maintain an undifferentiated state and how cell production is regulated by microenvironments known as niches. They are  also re-investigating the role of steroid and prostaglandin hormones in controlling

The Gall laboratory studies all aspects of the cell nucleus, particularly the structure of chromosomes, the transcription and processing of RNA, and the role of bodies inside the cell nucleus, especially the Cajal body (CB) and the histone locus body (HLB).

Much of the work makes use of the giant oocyte of amphibians and the equally giant nucleus or germinal vesicle (GV) found in it. He is particularly  interested in how the structure of the nucleus is related to the synthesis and processing of RNA—specifically, what changes occur in the chromosomes and other nuclear components when RNA is synthesized, processed, and transported to the cytoplasm.

In mammals, most lipids, such as fatty acids and cholesterol, are absorbed into the body via the small intestine. The complexity of the cells and fluids that inhabit this organ make it very difficult to study in a laboratory setting. The goal of the Farber lab is to better understand the cell and molecular biology of lipids within digestive organs by exploiting the many unique attributes of the clear zebrafish larva  to visualize lipid uptake and processing in real time.  Given their utmost necessity for proper cellular function, it is not surprising that defects in lipid metabolism underlie a number of human diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and atherosclerosis.

Ana Bonaca is Staff Member at Carnegie Observatories. Her specialty is stellar dynamics and her research aims to uncover the structure and evolution of our galaxy, the Milky Way, especially the dark matter halo that surrounds it. In her research, she uses space- and ground-based telescopes to measure the motions of stars, and constructs numerical experiments to discover how dark matter affected them.

She arrived in September 2021 from Harvard University where she held a prestigious Institute for Theory and Computation Fellowship. 

Bonaca studies how the uneven pull of our galaxy’s gravity affects objects called globular clusters—spheres made up of a million

Peter Gao's research interests include planetary atmospheres; exoplanet characterization; planet formation and evolution; atmosphere-surface-interior interactions; astrobiology; habitability; biosignatures; numerical modeling.

His arrival in September 2021 continued Carnegie's longstanding tradition excellence in exoplanet discovery and research, which is crucial as the field prepares for an onslaught of new data about exoplanetary atmospheres when the next generation of telescopes come online.

Gao has been a part of several exploratory teams that investigated sulfuric acid clouds on Venus, methane on Mars, and the atmospheric hazes of Pluto. He also

Anne Pommier's research is dedicated to understanding how terrestrial planets work, especially the role of silicate and metallic melts in planetary interiors, from the scale of volcanic magma reservoirs to core-scale and planetary-scale processes.

She joined Carnegie in July 2021 from U.C. San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where she investigated the evolution and structure of planetary interiors, including our own Earth and its Moon, as well as Mars, Mercury, and the moon Ganymede.

Pommier’s experimental petrology and mineral physics work are an excellent addition to Carnegie’s longstanding leadership in lab-based mimicry of the

Johanna Teske became the first new staff member to join Carnegie’s newly named Earth and Planets Laboratory (EPL) in Washington, D.C., on September 1, 2020. She has been a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, CA, since 2018. From 2014 to 2017 she was the Carnegie Origins Postdoctoral Fellow—a joint position between Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (now part of EPL) and the Carnegie Observatories.

Teske is interested in the diversity in exoplanet compositions and the origins of that diversity. She uses observations to estimate exoplanet interior and atmospheric compositions, and the chemical environments of their formation