Faculty Spotlight | David Weisblat

David Weisblat
David Weisblat

Congratulations to Professor Emeritus of Cell Biology, Development and Physiology David Weisblat on his retirement in June 2022! Since joining the MCB department in 1984, Dr. Weisblat has made significant contributions to UC Berkeley’s teaching and research missions. Learn about his favorite MCB memories, plans for retirement, and his lab’s research below. 

Q: What is your favorite MCB memory and what are your plans during retirement?

A: Hah! I can't even choose a favorite flavor of ice cream! There have been so many great interactions with colleagues and students over the years, and there has been such satisfaction in just figuring things out and solving puzzles in the lab, I really can't name a favorite. As far as retirement activities, I will maintain a lab presence for at least a year or two. Apart from that, there is a long list of projects to "finish" my house. And I look forward to continuing my own crude style of woodworking, plus native plants gardening and cooking. Hope to keep cycling, recycling and doing as little travel as possible, plus keeping track of (but certainly not up with!) my daughter Eleanor, wife Shinja Yoo and her four children.


Transgenic Helobdella
Transgenic Helobdella expressing red and green fluorescent proteins driven by a pan-neuronal enhancer (elav) in segmentally iterated neurons (photo by Chris Winchell)

Swimming in the "bio-diverse" ponds in Michigan where I grew up, I regarded leeches (phylum Annnelida) with the same horror as most people. But as a postdoc, I came to realize that glossiphoniid leech embryos are incredibly beautiful, and are well suited for studying embryonic development. From that sharply focused beginning, my fascination with the biology and evolution of leeches in general has expanded continuously over the years.

One of the most fascinating and fundamental questions in biology is the essentially historical one of how the remarkable diversity of living species has evolved. For multicellular animals, the immediate causes of divergence in body plans must be changes in developmental processes between the various evolutionary lineages emanating from the last common ancestor. Comparing modern representatives of bilaterally symmetric animals including Deuterostomia (echinoderms, hemichordates and chordates); Edysozoa (arthropods, nematodes and other "cuticle-shedding" animals); and Lophotrochozoa (annelids, mollusks, non-acoel flatworms, and a number of related minor phyla) is essential to understanding how changes in developmental processes have enabled the evolution of diverse body plans.

Adult and juvenile Helobdella (photo by Ajna Rivera)

The goals of the research in the Weisblat lab are twofold: first, to obtain as satisfying as possible an understanding of leech development; and second, to understand how developmental processes are modified during the evolution of different animal taxa. Current projects include studying genome rearrangements in leeches and oligochaetės compared to other spiralians, using Helobdella as a model for studying neural circuitry and nerve cell type specification, and elucidating the function Hox genes and others in leech.  

To learn more about the Weisblat lab visit: mcb.berkeley.edu/labs/weisblat/