Skip to main content

Douglas R. Cavener

Professor of Biology
Doug Cavener


Ph.D., University of Georgia, 1980

M.S., Brown University, 1977

B.A., Pasadena College, 1973


Postdoctoral Training

Cornell University, 1980-1982



Theodosius Dobzhansky Prize, International Society for the Study of Evolution

Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science


Research Interests

Regulatory networks and gene therapy

My research interests encompass genetic regulatory pathways that dynamically control developmental and physiological processes to adapt to internal or external perturbations. Currently, my research group is focused on regulation of metabolic processes that are particularly prone to maladaptations that lead to diseases such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. In particular we are studying the regulatory role of PERK eIF2 alpha kinase. We have discovered that PERK is a dynamic sensor of physiological/developmental changes and acts to modulate genetic networks for the purpose of adaptation and to acutely regulate intracellular calcium dynamics. The importance of PERK was underscored by our finding that PERK knockout mice display permanent neonatal diabetes, exocrine pancreas atrophy, multiple skeletal dysplasias, severe metabolic dysfunctions, and growth retardation, which perfectly parallels the human Wolcott-Rallison syndrome, also caused by Perk deficiency. Current research is focused on PERK regulation of insulin synthesis and secretion in the pancreatic beta cells and developing gene therapy strategies to correct PERK mutations in humans utilizing CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing.

Evolution and conservation of giraffe and elephant

We are investigating the evolutionary genetic changes underlying the unique morphology and physiology of the giraffe. We have sequenced the giraffe genome as well as a closely related species okapi, which lacks giraffe unique morphology and turbocharged cardiovascular system. By using comparative genome analysis we have identified candidate genes that we propose underlies giraffe long neck and legs and associated cardiovascular adaptations. Current studies are focused on testing the function of these genetic changes as related to giraffe's unique adaptations. Giraffe and African elephants have experienced massive declines in Africa due to poaching, and in support of their conservation we are investigating the population and ecological genetics of the Masai giraffe and the African savannah elephant in Tanzania.