Cornelia Bargmann, Ph.D.

Torsten N. Wiesel Professor
Director of Science, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

Cori Bargmann is working to identify and understand genes that play a role in neural development and behavior. The focus of her experiments is a tiny, transparent roundworm named C. elegans, which has become a key model organism for biomedical research. Deaf and nearly blind, but possessing a keen sense of smell, C. elegans has just 302 neurons, which have functions, morphologies, and connections that are highly consistent from one worm to another. Insights gained from studies of this simple animal—which shares many genes with humans— are helping to guide research on the complexities of the human brain.

In the course of her investigations, Dr. Bargmann is elucidating how behavior is influenced by a mix of genes, environment, and experience. Over the past few years, her work has yielded insights into a broad range of phenomena with important implications for understanding human biology. These include sensory perception, feeding and reproductive behavior, navigation, oxygen sensing, water balance, response to stress, and the proper wiring of the nervous system. Investigations under way in the Bargmann laboratory are relevant to such human disorders as dyslexia, epilepsy, and autism.

Dr. Bargmann received an undergraduate degree in biochemistry at the University of Georgia and a Ph.D. in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she helped to establish some of the earliest systems for identifying cancer-related molecular changes in gene and protein structure. She went on to conduct postdoctoral research in the MIT laboratory of Dr. Robert Horvitz, who shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discoveries about genes that control cell death in C. elegans.

Dr. Bargmann moved to the University of California, San Francisco, in 1991, becoming vice chair of the anatomy department in 1999. In 2004, she joined Rockefeller, where she is the Torsten N. Wiesel Professor and head of the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior. Since 2016, she has also served as head of science for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, an organization making a major investment in biomedical research.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Bargmann has received many other honors including the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, and the Scolnick Prize from MIT. Several years ago, she co-chaired the National Institutes of Health committee that set goals and strategies for the U.S. Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. From 1995 to 2016, she was an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.