Appointment of Dr. Nicolas Plachta to the William Richard Gordon President’s Distinguished Professorship

December 10, 2020

To:Penn Medicine Faculty, Students, and Staff

From:J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD
EVP and Dean, Perelman School of Medicine

Jonathan Epstein, MD

Nancy Speck, PhD
Chair, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology

We are delighted to announce the appointment of Nicolas Plachta, PhD, as the William Richard Gordon President’s Distinguished Professor in Genetics in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, a new professorship supported by George A. Weiss, C'65, Penn Medicine Trustee and Trustee Emeritus of the University.

Dr. Plachta, who was recruited to Penn in 2019, is widely recognized as a leader in the cellular and transcriptional mechanisms that determine the development of the pre-implantation mammalian embryo. Employing pioneering single-cell imaging techniques, his lab studies how all cell constituents, including its genes, proteins and organelles, interact to control cell behavior in real time, to guide the earliest stages of embryonic life.

Among his notable discoveries are how transcription factors bind to DNA within single cells of live mouse embryos to control cell fate, how the intermediate filament protein keratin provides a memory of cell state during asymmetric cell divisions, how embryonic cells generate mechanical forces to establish the first differentiated lineages during development, and how cells assemble new forms of  cytoskeletal organization, such as ring structures made of actin and intercellular bridges made of microtubules, which enable the embryo to establish the first forms of tissue organization.

Dr. Plachta’s work spans the multiple research interests of faculty in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, and his elegant, impactful, and rigorous science will further enhance the outstanding reputation of the Department. His long-term goals are to discover the major processes controlling the formation of the early embryo, establish how these mechanisms work at the molecular level, and determine how diverse mechanisms operating at the level of DNA–protein interactions, epigenetics, cytoskeletal elements, and morphogenetic changes are integrated within each cell to assemble a complex organism.

Dr. Plachta has published his findings in high impact journals, including Nature, Science, Cell, Developmental Cell, Nature Communications, and Nature Cell Biology. He has received several major international awards for his accomplishments. These include the prestigious EMBO Young Investigator award, a Howard Hughes International Scholar award, and the Gibco Emerging Leader Prize by the American Society of Cell Biology.

Dr. Plachta brings to our community a unique international background. A citizen of Argentina, Australia, and Israel, he earned his BSc at the University of Tel-Aviv, his PhD at the University of Basel, and completed postdoctoral training at the California Institute of Technology with support from the Swiss National Science Foundation and the European Molecular Biology Organization. He has held appointments at EMBL Australia and the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute, the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research in Singapore, and the Institute of Zoology, State Key Laboratory Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing.

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Plachta on his new appointment and expressing our gratitude to George Weiss for the visionary philanthropy that created this prestigious and impactful professorship.