William Jeffery Named 2021 Distinguished University Professor

William Jeffery will be honored as a 2021 Distinguished University Professor of Biology at the University of Maryland’s annual Faculty and Staff Convocation in the fall. The title of Distinguished University Professor is the highest academic honor bestowed by the university.

William Jeffery headshot
William Jeffery. Photo courtesy of Wliliam Jeffery.

“I am extremely pleased and honored by this appointment, which is a testimony not only to my own work but also to the contributions of students and colleagues that have worked with me over the years at UMD and in previous positions to explore new model organisms to study evolutionary developmental biology,” Jeffery said.

Jeffery joins more than 50 colleagues in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS) who have been named Distinguished University Professor since 1980. Distinguished University Professors are faculty members who have been recognized nationally and internationally for the importance of their scholarly achievements. They are selected by UMD’s president along with a committee composed of the provost and five Distinguished University Professors from diverse disciplines.

“We are very proud to see William Jeffery honored for his scientific accomplishments,” said CMNS Dean Amitabh Varshney. “He is known around the world for his expertise in the evolution of development, and we are fortunate that our students and faculty members benefit from that expertise.”

Jeffery joined UMD in 1999 as a professor and the chair of the Department of Biology. A global leader in the field of evolutionary developmental biology (or “evo-devo”), Jeffery is known for his significant contributions to the understanding of embryological development and evolutionary diversification. His studies of blind cavefish answered longstanding questions about how a sighted species of fish lost the ability to see simply by moving to a lightless environment. Jeffery identified the underlying genes involved in the loss of eyes in blind cavefish and showed that vision could be restored in the embryonic stages of development.

Jeffery’s research has been supported by 40 continuous years of funding from the National Institutes of Health. He has published more than 230 peer-reviewed journal articles, which have been cited more than 10,000 times. He has supervised more than 40 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

Jeffery is a fellow of the Linnean Society of London and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He serves on editorial boards for numerous professional publications including Research and Reports in Biology, EvoDevo, and Eye and Brain.

He has received numerous awards, including the Karst Award in 2010 from the Karst Waters Institute, in recognition of his many contributions to the scientific understanding of the biology of cave-dwelling species, and the prestigious 2012 Kovalevsky Medal, an award from the St. Petersburg Society of Naturalists for distinguished achievements in comparative zoology and embryology. He also served as president of the Society for Developmental Biology.

Jeffery earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Illinois and his Ph.D. in cell and developmental biology from the University of Iowa. Before serving as chair of UMD’s Department of Biology from 1999 to 2004, Jeffery was head of the Department of Biology at Pennsylvania State University (1996-99). Prior to that, he held academic positions at the University of California, Davis; the University of Texas at Austin, where he was the Johann Friedrich Miescher Regents Professor in Molecular Biology; the University of Houston; and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He completed postdoctoral fellowships with the National Institutes of Health through Tufts University School of Medicine and the American Cancer Society through the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Written by Kimbra Cutlip