Margaret McFall-Ngai

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Margaret McFall-Ngai
Margaret Jean McFall-Ngai
Alma materUniversity of San Francisco
University of California, Los Angeles
Known forHost-bacterial symbiosis
'Design' of tissues that interact with light
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
University of Wisconsin-Madison
University of Southern California
Thesis (1983)
Doctoral advisorJames Morin
Other academic advisorsJoseph Horwitz
George Somero

Margaret McFall-Ngai is an American animal physiologist and biochemist[1] best-known for her work related to the symbiotic relationship between Hawaiian bobtail squid, Euprymna scolopes and bioluminescent bacteria, Vibrio fischeri. Her research helped expand the microbiology field, primarily focused on pathogenicity and decomposition at the time, to include positive microbial associations.[2][3][4] She currently is a professor at PBRC’s Kewalo Marine Laboratory [5] and director of the Pacific Biosciences Research Program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.[6]

Education and career[edit]

McFall-Ngai spent her childhood in Southern California and attended Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles.[3] She attended college at the University of San Francisco, graduating in 1973 with a Bachelors of Science in biology.[3] She chose to further her education at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with doctoral advisor, James Morin, studying functional morphology and comparative physiology[7] while working as a teaching assistant/fellow.[5] Her graduate research took her to the central Philippines to study the relationship between bioluminescent bacteria found in the leiognathid light organ in fish,[8][9] igniting her “lifelong interest”[3] in the blend of the two subjects. McFall-Ngai graduated with her Ph.D. in Biology in 1983 and went on to complete two postdoctoral fellowships.[6] For her first postdoc, she remained at UCLA working on protein biochemistry-biophysics[7] for the Jules Stein Eye Institute with advisor, Joseph Horwitz.[5] She then moved to San Diego to work with advisor George Somero on protein chemistry enzymology[7] at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.[5] On the side McFall-Ngai had been exploring the Hawaiian bobtail squid as an alternative to the fish she had studied in graduate school and initiated what would become a career-long collaboration with microbiologist, Edward (Ned) Ruby, who had written his dissertation on the squids’ symbionts, Vibrio fischeri.[1]

In 1989 McFall-Ngai accepted a position and later received tenure at the University of Southern California in the Department of Biology and began breeding and studying the Hawaiian bobtail squid.[2] She and Ruby moved to Hawaii in 1996 to better study the squid-bacteria relationship, both accepting positions at Pacific Biomedical Research Center at the University of Hawaii.[6] In 2004, McFall-Ngai accepted a position as professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Eye Research institute.[10] She returned to Hawaii in 2015 when she accepted her current position as director of the Pacific Biosciences Research Program[6] and professor at PBRC’s Kewalo Marine Laboratory at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.[5]


McFall-Ngai is a pioneer in the study of animal-bacterial symbiosis and known for her research of the Hawaiian bobtail squid, Euprymna scolopes, and its relationship with bacteria, Vibrio fischeri. She initially began her research in graduate school studying fish with a similar bioluminescent bacterial relationship,[8][9] however, these fish proved difficult to grow in the lab. At a meeting, a visiting researcher from the University of Hawaii suggested she investigate the Hawaiian bobtail squid and its bioluminescent symbionts V. fischeri as an alternative.[1] McFall-Ngai found that the squid worked great in the lab with 8-10 pairs of squid generating roughly 60,000 juveniles a year.[2] To fully study this relationship, McFall-Ngai began collaborating with Edward (Ned) Ruby, a microbiologist who had written his dissertation on V. fischeri.[1]

Over the next three decades, McFall-Ngai, Ruby, and dozens of postdocs and students would investigate all aspects of the symbiotic relationship.[11] They worked to understand the development of the relationship at different stages of the squid life cycle,[12][13] analyze the initiation of symbiosis in real time,[14][15] and identify how the host selects its symbionts.[16][17][18] They learned that the squid follows a rhythmic pattern in which the bacteria are brightest when the squid hunt at night [19] and are then expelled at dawn.[20][21] As analysis tools advanced, Ruby and McFall-Ngai were able to map transcriptional patterns and identify related genes that control the squid's rhythmic behaviors and symbiotic relationship.[22][23] The sum of their Hawaiian bobtail squid research is an extremely well defined model organism fit for studying bacterial symbioses, light interacting tissues, and cephalopod development.[24]

Awards and honors[5][edit]

  • 1983: UCLA Graduate Woman of the Year
  • 1985 – 1986: NIH National Research Service Award
  • 1986 – 1988: University of California President’s Fellow
  • 1994: Albert S. Raubenheimer Award for Outstanding Junior Faculty, University of Southern California
  • 1999 – 2000: Miescher-Ishida Prize from the International Society Endocytobiology
  • 2002: Regents' Medal for Excellence in Research, University of Hawaii
  • 2008: Arthur Furst Distinguished Research Award, University of San Francisco
  • 2009 – 2010: John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship
  • 2011 – 2013: Moore Scholar at California Institute of Technology[25]
  • 2011 – 2016: EU Marie Curie Fellowship
  • 2015: Doctor Honoris Causa, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 2019: ARCS Foundation Scientist of the Year [26]

Society fellowships (elected)[edit]

  • 2002: American Academy of Microbiology fellow
  • 2011: American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 2014: National Academy of Science[25]

Notable publications[edit]

  • Care for the community.[27]
  • Animals in a bacterial world, a new imperative for the life sciences.[28]
  • The winnowing: establishing the squid–vibrio symbiosis.[29]
  • Unseen Forces: The Influence of Bacteria on Animal Development.[30]
  • Bacterial symbionts induce host organ morphogenesis during early postembryonic development of the squid Euprymna scolopes.[31]
  • Reflectins: The Unusual Proteins of Squid Reflective Tissues.[32]
  • Vibrio fischeri lux Genes Play an Important Role in Colonization and Development of the Host Light Organ[33]

Biographic profiles[edit]

  • Microbiology: Here's looking at you, squid. By Ed Yong.[34]
  • PNAS: Profile of Margaret McFall-Ngai. By Jennifer Viegas.[35]
  • I contain multitudes: the microbes within us and a grander view of life (Chapter 3: "Body Builders"). By Ed Yong.[36]


  • Futuretech podcast: Hawaiian Bobtail Squid: Using Light to Hide in the Dark—Dr. Margaret Mc-Fall Ngai—The Squid Vibrio Labs.
  • CIFAR Q&A with Margaret McFall-Ngai.
  • The Extra Pounds You Can’t Afford to Lose: An Interview With Microbiologist Margaret McFall-Ngai.[37]


  1. ^ a b c d "Hawaiian Bobtail Squid: Using Light to Hide in the Dark—Dr. Margaret Mc-Fall Ngai—The Squid Vibrio Labs". FutureTech Podcast. 2019-09-23. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Yong, E (15 January 2015). "Microbiology: Here's looking at you, squid". Nature. 517 (7534): 262–4. Bibcode:2015Natur.517..262Y. doi:10.1038/517262a. PMID 25592518.
  3. ^ a b c d Viegas, Jennifer (2017-08-22). "Profile of Margaret J. McFall-Ngai". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114 (36): 9494–9496. doi:10.1073/pnas.1713158114. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 5594705. PMID 28830998.
  4. ^ "Margaret McFall-Ngai". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Archived from the original on 28 August 2018. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f McFall-Ngai, Margaret. "McFall-Ngai CV" (PDF). Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d McFall-Ngai, Margaret. "Margaret McFall-Ngai, PH.D". Pacific Biosciences Research Center. Pacific Biosciences Research Center, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  7. ^ a b c Amato, Katherine. "Q&A With Margaret McFall-Ngai".
  8. ^ a b McFall-Ngai, Margaret (April 1983). "Three new modes of luminescence in the leiognathid fish Gazza minuta: Discrete projected luminescence, ventral body flash, and buccal luminescence". Marine Biology. 73 (3): 227–237. doi:10.1007/BF00392247. S2CID 84813290.
  9. ^ a b McFall-Ngai, Margaret (July 1983). "Adaptations for reflection of bioluminescent light in the gas bladder of Leiognathus equulus (Perciformes: Leiognathidae)". Journal of Experimental Zoology. 227 (1): 23–33. doi:10.1002/jez.1402270105. PMID 6619765.
  10. ^ "Margaret J. McFall-Ngai, PH.D". McPherson Eye Research Institute. 10 August 2017. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  11. ^ McFall-Ngai, M (February 2014). "Divining the essence of symbiosis: insights from the squid-vibrio model". PLOS Biology. 12 (2): e1001783. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001783. PMC 3913551. PMID 24504482.
  12. ^ Montgomery, MK; McFall-Ngai, M (June 1993). "Embryonic Development of the Light Organ of the Sepiolid Squid Euprymna scolopes Berry". The Biological Bulletin. 184 (3): 296–308. doi:10.2307/1542448. JSTOR 1542448. PMID 29300543.
  13. ^ Montgomery, MK; McFall-Ngai, M (July 1994). "Bacterial symbionts induce host organ morphogenesis during early postembryonic development of the squid Euprymna scolopes". Development. 120 (7): 1719–29. doi:10.1242/dev.120.7.1719. PMID 7924980.
  14. ^ Nyholm, SV; Stabb, EV; Ruby, EG; McFall-Ngai, MJ (29 August 2000). "Establishment of an animal-bacterial association: recruiting symbiotic vibrios from the environment". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 97 (18): 10231–5. doi:10.1073/pnas.97.18.10231. PMC 27829. PMID 10963683.
  15. ^ Foster, JS; McFall-Ngai, MJ (August 1998). "Induction of apoptosis by cooperative bacteria in the morphogenesis of host epithelial tissues". Development Genes and Evolution. 208 (6): 295–303. doi:10.1007/s004270050185. PMID 9716720. S2CID 24818919.
  16. ^ Altura, MA; Heath-Heckman, EA; Gillette, A; Kremer, N; Krachler, AM; Brennan, C; Ruby, EG; Orth, K; McFall-Ngai, MJ (November 2013). "The first engagement of partners in the Euprymna scolopes-Vibrio fischeri symbiosis is a two-step process initiated by a few environmental symbiont cells". Environmental Microbiology. 15 (11): 2937–50. doi:10.1111/1462-2920.12179. PMC 3937295. PMID 23819708.
  17. ^ Visick, KL (November 2009). "An intricate network of regulators controls biofilm formation and colonization by Vibrio fischeri". Molecular Microbiology. 74 (4): 782–9. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2958.2009.06899.x. PMC 2906375. PMID 19818022.
  18. ^ Wollenberg, MS; Ruby, EG (January 2009). "Population structure of Vibrio fischeri within the light organs of Euprymna scolopes squid from Two Oahu (Hawaii) populations". Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 75 (1): 193–202. doi:10.1128/AEM.01792-08. PMC 2612210. PMID 18997024.
  19. ^ Boettcher, K.J.; Ruby, E.G.; McFall-Ngai, M.J. (July 1996). "Bioluminescence in the symbiotic squid Euprymna scolopes is controlled by a daily biological rhythm". Journal of Comparative Physiology A. 179 (1). doi:10.1007/BF00193435. S2CID 28096354.
  20. ^ Graf, J; Ruby, EG (17 February 1998). "Host-derived amino acids support the proliferation of symbiotic bacteria". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 95 (4): 1818–22. Bibcode:1998PNAS...95.1818G. doi:10.1073/pnas.95.4.1818. PMC 19196. PMID 9465100.
  21. ^ Heath-Heckman, Elizabeth A. C.; Peyer, Suzanne M.; Whistler, Cheryl A.; Apicella, Michael A.; Goldman, William E.; McFall-Ngai, Margaret J.; Handelsman, Jo (2 April 2013). "Bacterial Bioluminescence Regulates Expression of a Host Cryptochrome Gene in the Squid-Vibrio Symbiosis". mBio. 4 (2). doi:10.1128/mBio.00167-13. PMC 3622930. PMID 23549919.
  22. ^ Wier, AM; Nyholm, SV; Mandel, MJ; Massengo-Tiassé, RP; Schaefer, AL; Koroleva, I; Splinter-Bondurant, S; Brown, B; Manzella, L; Snir, E; Almabrazi, H; Scheetz, TE; Bonaldo Mde, F; Casavant, TL; Soares, MB; Cronan, JE; Reed, JL; Ruby, EG; McFall-Ngai, MJ (2 February 2010). "Transcriptional patterns in both host and bacterium underlie a daily rhythm of anatomical and metabolic change in a beneficial symbiosis". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 107 (5): 2259–64. Bibcode:2010PNAS..107.2259W. doi:10.1073/pnas.0909712107. PMC 2836665. PMID 20133870.
  23. ^ Kremer, N; Philipp, EE; Carpentier, MC; Brennan, CA; Kraemer, L; Altura, MA; Augustin, R; Häsler, R; Heath-Heckman, EA; Peyer, SM; Schwartzman, J; Rader, BA; Ruby, EG; Rosenstiel, P; McFall-Ngai, MJ (14 August 2013). "Initial symbiont contact orchestrates host-organ-wide transcriptional changes that prime tissue colonization". Cell Host & Microbe. 14 (2): 183–94. doi:10.1016/j.chom.2013.07.006. PMC 3928804. PMID 23954157.
  24. ^ Lee, PN; McFall-Ngai, MJ; Callaerts, P; de Couet, HG (November 2009). "The Hawaiian bobtail squid (Euprymna scolopes): a model to study the molecular basis of eukaryote-prokaryote mutualism and the development and evolution of morphological novelties in cephalopods". Cold Spring Harbor Protocols. 2009 (11): pdb.emo135. doi:10.1101/pdb.emo135. PMID 20150047.
  25. ^ a b "Margaret McFall-Ngai". The Squid Vibrio Labs. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
  26. ^ "News 2019". The Squid Vibrio Labs. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
  27. ^ McFall-Ngai, Margaret (January 2007). "Care for the community". Nature. 445 (7124): 153. Bibcode:2007Natur.445..153M. doi:10.1038/445153a. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 17215830. S2CID 9273396.
  28. ^ McFall-Ngai, Margaret; Hadfield, Michael G.; Bosch, Thomas C. G.; Carey, Hannah V.; Domazet-Lošo, Tomislav; Douglas, Angela E.; Dubilier, Nicole; Eberl, Gerard; Fukami, Tadashi (2013-02-26). "Animals in a bacterial world, a new imperative for the life sciences". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 110 (9): 3229–3236. Bibcode:2013PNAS..110.3229M. doi:10.1073/pnas.1218525110. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 3587249. PMID 23391737.
  29. ^ Nyholm, Spencer V.; McFall-Ngai, Margaret (August 2004). "The winnowing: establishing the squid–vibrio symbiosis". Nature Reviews Microbiology. 2 (8): 632–642. doi:10.1038/nrmicro957. ISSN 1740-1526. PMID 15263898. S2CID 21583331.
  30. ^ McFall-Ngai, Margaret J. (2002-02-01). "Unseen Forces: The Influence of Bacteria on Animal Development". Developmental Biology. 242 (1): 1–14. doi:10.1006/dbio.2001.0522. ISSN 0012-1606. PMID 11795936.
  31. ^ Montgomery, M. K.; McFall-Ngai, M. (1994-07-01). "Bacterial symbionts induce host organ morphogenesis during early postembryonic development of the squid Euprymna scolopes". Development. 120 (7): 1719–1729. doi:10.1242/dev.120.7.1719. ISSN 0950-1991. PMID 7924980. Archived from the original on 2017-08-20. Retrieved 2018-10-17.
  32. ^ Crookes, Wendy J.; Ding, Lin-Lin; Huang, Qing Ling; Kimbell, Jennifer R.; Horwitz, Joseph; McFall-Ngai, Margaret J. (2004-01-09). "Reflectins: The Unusual Proteins of Squid Reflective Tissues". Science. 303 (5655): 235–238. Bibcode:2004Sci...303..235C. doi:10.1126/science.1091288. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 14716016. S2CID 44490101.
  33. ^ Visick, K. L.; Foster, J.; Doino, J.; McFall-Ngai, M.; Ruby, E. G. (August 2000). "Vibrio fischeri lux genes play an important role in colonization and development of the host light organ". Journal of Bacteriology. 182 (16): 4578–4586. doi:10.1128/JB.182.16.4578-4586.2000. ISSN 0021-9193. PMC 94630. PMID 10913092.
  34. ^ Yong, Ed (14 January 2015). "Here's looking at you, squid". Nature. 517 (7534): 262–264. Bibcode:2015Natur.517..262Y. doi:10.1038/517262a. PMID 25592518.
  35. ^ Viegas, Jennifer (5 September 2017). "Profile of Margaret J. McFall-Ngai". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. 114 (36): 9494–9496. doi:10.1073/pnas.1713158114. PMC 5594705. PMID 28830998.
  36. ^ Yong, Ed (2016). I contain multitudes: the microbes within us and a grander view of life. Random House. ISBN 9780062368591.
  37. ^ Brown, Brandon (2012-07-07). "The Extra Pounds You Can't Afford to Lose: An Interview With Microbiologist Margaret McFall-Ngai". HuffPost. Retrieved 5 December 2019.

External links[edit]