Laura Landweber

2008 Regional Award Winner — Faculty

Laura Landweber

Current Position:
Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University and Visiting Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Columbia University

Princeton University and Columbia University

Evolutionary Biology

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise:  Molecular Evolution and RNA-Mediated Epigenetic Inheritance


PhD, Biology, Harvard University
AB, Molecular Biology, Princeton University

Dr. Laura Landweber studies novel genetic systems in single-celled eukaryotes, bringing a strongly mechanistic approach to understanding genome evolution and diversity.  Her lab has shown that the surprisingly sophisticated variations on DNA and RNA processing in microbial eukaryotes create an imaginative playground for genome architecture and genetic systems.  Some of their natural genome editing pathways erode the notions of a gene and even Mendelian inheritance, reminding us that a genome sequence can be a far cry from knowledge of its products.

Genome-wide DNA rearrangements occur in diverse organisms, and contribute to many human diseases, including cancer. Their extreme exaggeration in ciliates, particularly the pond-dwelling Oxytricha, make it an ideal model system to study the role of RNA in epigenetic control of genome remodeling and the range of mechanisms that permit noncoding RNAs to sculpt the information in genomes. 

My lab studies the origin and evolution of complex genome architectures and their molecular mechanisms of RNA-mediated epigenetic inheritance. I am especially drawn to the scrambled and fragmented genomes of complex microbial systems. 

Key Publications:

  1. Chen, X., Bracht, J. R., Goldman, A. D., Dolzhenko, E., Clay, D. M., Swart, E. C., Perlman, D. H., Sebra, R. P., Doak, T. G., Stuart, A., Amemiya, C. T., and L. F. Landweber. The architecture of a scrambled genome reveals massive levels of genomic rearrangement during development. Cell. 2014 
  2. Fang, W., Wang, X., Bracht, J. R., Nowacki, M., and L. F. Landweber. Piwi-Interacting RNAs Protect DNA Against Loss During Oxytricha Genome Rearrangement. Cell. 2012 
  3. Nowacki, M., Vijayan, V., Zhou, Y., Schotanus, K., Doak, T. G. and L. F. Landweber. RNA-mediated epigenetic programming of a genome-rearrangement pathway. Nature. 2008   

Other Honors:

2014 Division R Lecturer, American Society of Microbiology
2012 Guggenheim Fellow
2005 AAAS Fellow in Biological Sciences
2001 Tulip Prize for DNA Computing
1999 NSF CAREER Award in Computational Biology
1999 Sigma Xi’s first Young Investigator Award in the life and social sciences
1994 Burroughs Wellcome Fund New Investigator Award in Molecular Parasitology
1993 Harvard University, William F. Milton Fund Award

In the Media:

Biology: Complex Copulation. Princeton Alumni Weekly. May 13, 2015
This Bizarre Organism Builds Itself a New Genome Every Time It Has Sex. Wired. September 17, 2014
You Have 46 Chromosomes. This Pond Creature Has 15,600. National Geographic. February 6, 2013
Research team finds important role for junk DNA. Princeton University Press. May 20, 2009
NJN News Science Report - DNA Bypass. NJN Public Television & Radio. January 17, 2008