Antonio J. Giraldez, Ph.D., professor of genetics, has been appointed chair of that department. The appointment became effective July 1. Giraldez is affiliated with Yale Cancer Center and the Yale Stem Cell Center and was director of graduate studies for the Department of Genetics from 2012 to 2016.

“Antonio is an outstanding investigator who has made major advances in our understanding of embryonic development. He is committed to continuing the outstanding academic tradition of the department,” says Robert J. Alpern, M.D., dean and Ensign Professor of Medicine.

Giraldez says that under his leadership, the Department of Genetics will continue to recruit outstanding faculty as it moves toward a more quantitative approach to genetics and developmental biology and seeks to bring new understanding to the function of individual genes, as well as the organization of nuclear architecture into gene function.

At the same time, Giraldez says he is eager to build upon Yale’s strengths in genomic analysis for clinical diagnosis and to use knowledge gained from clinical data to propel basic science discoveries using model systems.

“My goal is to continue our trajectory of basic science discovery and bring the research that’s being done in our human genetics core closer to patients, so that we become a destination point for analyzing the genomes of thousands of patients,” he says.

Giraldez’s own research in developmental biology, genetics, genomics, and computational biology delves into deciphering the mechanisms by which a single-cell zygote transforms into a multicellular organism.

His major contribution, using zebrafish as a model system, has been to advance understanding of the maternal-to-zygote transition—what he terms “embryonic puberty”—the shift that occurs after the embryo interprets and destroys maternal instructions and activates the code contained in its own genome. He also found that the same stem cell factors that reprogram cells play a key role in activation of the genome after fertilization, a universal step in embryonic development that allows an early embryo to develop into different cell types.

Giraldez earned his doctoral degree in developmental genetics from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany. He did postdoctoral training in developmental biology at the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, as well as at Harvard University.

Last year, Giraldez was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Faculty Scholar, an honor that recognizes basic researchers who apply innovative approaches to biological problems that are relevant to human health. In 2014, he won the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Sciences.

He was named a Pew Scholar in Biomedical Sciences in 2008 and won the John Kendrew Young Investigator Award from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in 2007. He has twice been a finalist for the Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists.