John Young

Assistant Professor

I think I was five years old when I saw the movie JAWS. I knew right then that I wanted to be a biologist. While I initially wanted to study sharks, my interests took me from marine ecology to developmental biology. I am fascinated by the diversity of life on the planet and find inspiration for our work in the many forms nature has provided. I’ve worked on such diverse organisms as marine algae and large flightless birds (see photo of me with an ostrich egg!). Much of my work currently focuses on frogs where we strive to understand how changes in development can form the basis of those many forms we see in nature. Overall, my biggest passion is instilling that same excitement for biology that I have into the students that take my courses and work with me. So, come join us as we seek to understand how and why we have so much animal diversity! Outside of the lab and classroom, I enjoy bird-watching, kayaking, bird-watching while kayaking, and listening to music, perhaps a little too loudly.


  • Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley
  • M.S. University of Oregon
  • B.S. Aquinas College


  • BIOL 113: General Biology
  • BIO 218: Organismal Diversity in the Environment
  • BIO 333: Marine Biology
  • BIOL 335: Developmental Biology
  • BIO 347: Human Development and Genetics

Research/Special Projects

Have you ever wondered where your arms and legs come from? Or how did you make your brain? Broadly, our lab seeks to answer these questions using the model system Xenopus laevis, a widely used frog from South Africa.

Young Lab

Neural patterning in the early embryo

The formation of the central nervous system is a key event in the development of vertebrates. In the lab we use genome-editing methods to investigate the genetic mechanisms that direct the brain and spinal cord to develop in the correct anatomical position.

Limb formation in amphibians

Humans form their arms and legs in early embryogenesis. Conversely, most amphibians form them during metamorphosis. While we have a good understanding of limb development in birds and mammals, very little is known about how this process occurs in amphibians. We use various molecular, genetic, and embryological techniques to understand where frog limbs come from and how they are generated.


Young, J.J., Grayson, P., Edwards, S.V., Tabin, C.J., 2019. Attenuated Fgf Signaling Underlies the Forelimb Heterochrony in the Emu Dromaius novaehollandiae. Current Biology 29, 3681–3691.e5.

Young, J.J., Grayson, P., Tabin, C.J., 2019. Developmental Biology: Hox Timing Determines Limb Placement. Current Biology 29, R52–R54.

Young, J.J., Tabin, C.J., 2017. Saunders's framework for understanding limb development as a platform for investigating limb evolution. Developmental Biology 429, 401-408.

Young, J.J., Kjolby, R.A.S., Wu, G., Wong, D., Hsu, S.-W., Harland, R.M., 2017. Noggin is required for first pharyngeal arch differentiation in the frog Xenopus tropicalis. Developmental Biology 426, 245-254.

Uygur, A., Young, J., Huycke, T.R., Koska, M., Briscoe, J., Tabin, C.J., 2016. Scaling Pattern to Variations in Size during Development of the Vertebrate Neural Tube. Developmental Cell 37, 127–135.

Young, J.J., Kjolby, R.A.S., Kong, N.R., Monica, S.D., Harland, R.M., 2014. Spalt-like 4 promotes posterior neural fates via repression of pou5f3 family members in Xenopus. Development 141, 1683–1693.

Young, J.J., Cherone, J.M., Doyon, Y., Ankoudinova, I., Faraji, F.M., Lee, A.H., Ngo, C., Guschin, D.Y., Paschon, D.E., Miller, J.C., Zhang, L., Rebar, E.J., Gregory, P.D., Urnov, F.D., Harland, R.M., Zeitler, B., 2011. Efficient targeted gene disruption in the soma and germ line of the frog Xenopus tropicalis using engineered zinc-finger nucleases. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 108, 7052–7057.

Professional Affiliations & Memberships

  • Society for Developmental Biology

John Young in the News

A collage of portraits of ten of the twelve Simmon University SURPASS Scholars for 2024

Congratulations to the 2024 SURPASs Scholars

Twelve undergraduate scholars from different disciplines have been selected to join the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at Simmons (SURPASs), a highly competitive, fully funded research and mentorship program. During this six week intensive, students will work with a faculty mentor to execute an independent research project of their own design and development.