Skip to content

NCCR Lecture series: James E. Ferrell

Copyright: Paul Sakuma/Stanford School of Medicine

James E. Ferrell, Professor of Chemical and Systems Biology & Professor of Biochemistry, Sanford University (US), is our next guest speaker. He will give a talk on “Trigger waves in cell signaling” at UNIGE and EPFL.


About the talk

Ferrell’s group has been exploring the question of how regulatory signals spread through cells. By using as model system Xenopus egg extracts, the lab demonstrated that Cdk1 activity – which makes mitosis happen – and caspase-3/7 – which makes apoptosis happen – spread through the cytoplasm via what are termed trigger waves. There is good evidence that they do also in intact Xenopus eggs. Trigger waves require only three basic ingredients (positive feedback in the biochemical reactions, a mechanism for local spatial coupling, and a localized initiation point). The Ferrell lab suspects that they will prove to be widespread in the coordination of signaling in large cells and tissues.


About James E. Ferrell

James Ferrell was born in Gary Indiana and raised in Chicago and Pittsburgh. He was an undergraduate at Williams College, where he majored in Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics, and graduated in 1976. For his undergraduate thesis he worked with David A. Park on nonlinear dynamics and chaos in the Hénon-Heiles model of stars in an axisymmetrical galactic potential. After graduating he came west to Stanford for medical school and graduate school. His did his PhD thesis in Chemistry with Wray H. Huestis, working on cell shape control and phosphoinositide metabolism in human erythrocytes. He received his PhD in 1984 and his MD in 1986. He then moved to UC Berkeley for postdoctoral studies with G. Steven Martin on tyrosine-specific protein phosphorylation in human platelets, mammalian cell lines, and Xenopus laevis oocytes, eggs, and embryos.

He began his independent career in the Dept. of Zoology at the University of Wisconsin in 1990. He moved to the Dept. of Pharmacology at Stanford University School of Medicine in 1992. The Department later became the Dept. of Chemical and Systems Biology, which he chaired from its inception in 2006 until 2011. Currently he is Professor of Chemical and Systems Biology and Professor of Biochemistry.

Ferrell lab


More info

Poster of the seminar at the University of Geneva & EPFL