Zachary Pincus, PhD

Assistant Professor of Developmental Biology and Genetics

Research interests

My fundamental goal is to understand inter-individual variability in living systems: What are the origins of biological individuality? How is variance controlled, limited and adaptively exploited?

In particular, my lab uses variability in Caenorhabditis elegans health and lifespan as a metazoan model of noise control, homeostatic robustness and biological individuality. These processes have attracted considerable attention in bacteria, yeast and single mammalian cells; however, there has been less investigation of the origins and implications of variability in multicellular organisms – a topic important for understanding how and why complex phenomena, such as age-related disease, manifest differently and at different times in individual humans.

Though famously invariant in its development, even genetically identical populations of C. elegans show a great degree of variability in later-life health, stress resistance and longevity, as do higher animals. (Indeed, variation in human lifespan is under a surprisingly low degree of genetic control.)

It is often presumed that lifespan variability, especially in controlled environments, is due to stochastic differences in damage accumulation over time; however, it is also possible that individual, epigenetic states of robustness exist, may be developmentally determined, and/or may be adaptive in the face of changing environments. My lab’s research draws on expertise in both bioinformatics and bench biology to rigorously investigate the origins of variability in individual health across entire populations.

Overall, these quantitative studies of inter-individual variability are a powerful technique for dissecting the operation of unperturbed biological systems, instead of relying on mutations and other interventions that may place a system in a non-physiological state. In this respect, this work is complementary to the common thread of systems biology, which seeks to understand the whole in terms of interactions and emergent properties of its parts. In contrast, these techniques are designed to understand the interactions of the parts by careful study of the whole.

Lab website

Back row: Zachary Pincus, Matt Mosley, Drew Sinha, Eric Terry

Front row: Nicolette Laird, Laura Metz, Holly Kinser, Will Pittman


Stanford University; B.S. 06/02 Biology

Stanford University; Ph.D. 06/07 Biomedical Informatics

Yale University; Postdoctoral 2007–2013 Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology

Honors and Awards

2000 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship (Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation)

2002 Firestone Medal for Excellence in Undergraduate Research (Stanford University)

2004 National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (American Society for Engineering Education / Department of Defense)

2004 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (National Science Foundation; gratefully declined)

2006 Biosciences Graduate Education Award for Excellence in Teaching (Stanford University School of Medicine)

2006 President’s Award for Excellence (International Society for Analytic Cytology)

2007 Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center)

2008 Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral Fellowship (Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research)

2012 Ellison/AFAR Postdoctoral Research in Aging Fellowship (Ellison Medical Foundation / American Federation for Aging Research; gratefully declined)

Selected publications

See a complete list of Dr. Pincus’s publications »