Maura McGrail

Associate Professor; Chair of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Graduate Program

Dr. McGrail, Associate Professor, received her BS in Biochemistry from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and her PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Minnesota. Her previous positions include postdoctoral work at the University of California-San Diego, Myriad Genetics in Salt Lake City, and the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah.

Research Description

The focus of our research is to investigate the genetic pathways that contribute to brain tumor onset and progression using the zebrafish model system. Identifying genetic drivers that advance cancer progression will aid in developing new therapies to treat malignant disease. Gene editing and somatic mutagenesis with CRISPR/Cas9 and TALENs are being used to identify genes that cooperate with the RB1 and TP53 tumor suppressors in neural development and brain tumor pathogenesis.


Complete Publication List

Recent Publications

Mann CM, Martínez-Gálvez G, Welker JM, Wierson WA, Ata H, Almeida MP, Clark KJ, Essner JJ, McGrail M, Ekker SC, Dobbs D. (2019) The Gene Sculpt Suite: a set of tools for genome editing. Nucleic Acids Res. Jul 2;47(W1):W175-W182. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkz405. PMID: 31127311

Schultz LE, Almeida MP, Wierson WA, Kool M, McGrail M. Retinoblastoma binding protein 4 maintains cycling neural stem cells and prevents DNA damage and Tp53-dependent apoptosis in neural progenitors. bioRxiv doi:

Wierson WA, Welker JM, Almeida MP, Mann CA, Webster DA, Weiss TJ, Vollbrecht MK, Ming Z, Wehmeier A, Mikelson CS, Haltom JA, Kwan KM, Chien C-B, Balciunas D, Ekker SC, Clark KJ, Webber BR, Moriarity B, Solin SL, Carlson DF, Dobbs DL, McGrail M, Essner JJ. GeneWeld: a method for efficient targeted integration directed by short homology. bioRxiv doi:

Schultz LE, Haltom JA, Almeida MP, Wierson WA, Solin SL, Weiss TJ, Helmer JA, Sandquist EJ, Shive HR, McGrail M. (2018) Epigenetic regulators Rbbp4 and Hdac1 are overexpressed in zebrafish RB-embryonal brain tumors and required for neural progenitor survival and proliferation. Disease Models & Mechanisms. Jun 15;11(6). pii: dmm034124. doi: 10.1242/dmm.034124. PMID: 29914980.

Schultz LE, Solin SL, Wierson WA, Lovan JM, Syrkin-Nikolau J, Lincow DE, Severin AJ, Sakaguchi DS, McGrail M. (2017) VEGFA and Leptin expression associated with ectopic proliferation and retinal dysplasia in zebrafish optic pathway tumors. Zebrafish. Aug;14(4):343-356. doi: 10.1089/zeb.2016.1366.

Welker JM, Wierson WA, Wang Y, Poshusta TL, McNulty MS, Tisdale EE, Solin SL, Ekker SC, Clark KJ, McGrail MA, Essner JJ. (2016) GoldyTALEN vectors with improved efficiency for Golden Gate TALEN Assembly. Human Gene Therapy. 10.1089/hum.2016.012.

Solin SL, Shive HR, Woolard KR, Essner JJ, McGrail M. (2015) Rapid tumor induction in zebrafish by TALEN-mediated somatic inactivation of the zebrafish retinoblastoma1 tumor suppressor rb1. Scientific Reports 5, 13745; doi: 10.1038/srep13745.

Solin SL, Wang Y, Mauldin J, Schultz LE, Lincow DE, Brodskiy PA, Jones CA, Syrkin-Nikolau J, Linn JM, Essner JJ, Hostetter JM, Whitley EM, Cameron JD, Chou H-h, Severin AJ, Sakaguchi DS, McGrail M. (2014) Molecular and cellular characterization of a zebrafish optic pathway tumor line implicates glia-derived progenitors in tumorigenesis. PLOS ONE 10.1371/journal.pone.0114888.  

Liao H-k, Wang Y, Noack Watt K, Wen Q, Breitbach J, Kemmet C, Clark K, Ekker S, Essner J, McGrail M. (2012) Tol2 gene trap integrations in the zebrafish amyloid precursor protein genes appa and aplp2 reveal accumulation of secreted APP at the embryonic veins. Developmental Dynamics, 241(2):415-25.

McGrail M*, Hatler JM, Kuang X, Liao H-K, Nanapaneni K, Watt KEN, Uhl JD, Largaespada DA, Vollbrecht E, Scheetz TE, Dupuy AJ, Hostetter JM and Essner JJ. (2011) Somatic mutagenesis with a Sleeping Beauty transposon system leads to solid tumor formation in zebrafish. PLoS ONE 6(4): e18826. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018826.




Area of Expertise: 
Cancer genetics and functional genomics in zebrafish
B.S., Biochemistry, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1988
Ph.D., Molecular, Cellular, Developmental Biology and Genetics, University of Minnesota, 1996
2213 Pammel Dr. 3005 Advanced Teaching and Research Building