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Department of Zoology



I took my first degree in Zoology at Cambridge, where the influence of Sidney Brenner and Peter Lawrence kindled my interest in developmental genetics and pattern formation.  As a graduate student in Oxford I identified and mapped genes encoding the larval blood proteins of the fruit fly Drosophila. Moving to the Department of Biochemistry at Stanford in 1979,  I participated in the first isolation of the developmental control genes now known as Hox genes.  I returned to the Genetics Department in Cambridge in 1982, where I was able to show for the first time that Hox genes are expressed at specific positions along the body axis of animals. I have since worked on many aspects of the functional organisation of Hox genes in fruit flies and other species.

Over the last twenty years my group has exploited our growing knowledge of developmental genetics to study the genetic basis for animal diversity, particularly among arthropods.  My current passion is for the embryos of centipedes, and the biology of segment formation.

In 1989, I moved as a founding member to the Wellcome/CRC Institute for Cancer and Developmental Biology in Cambridge (now the Gurdon Institute).  In 1997 I became Director of the University Museum of Zoology, and in 2010, 1866 Professor of Zoology. I was Head of the Department of Zoology from 2010 to 2016.  I have been a Fellow of Darwin College since 2006. 


I am interested in the evolution of developmental mechanisms ("Evo-Devo"), and how changes in development lead to changes in the form and function of organisms. Most of our work is with arthropods. We have a long standing interest in the role of the "Hox" family of developmental regulatory genes: How their regulation and expression leads to the range of different segment morphologies in Drosophila; how changes in the role of Hox genes may be related to the pattern of segment diversity in other insects, in basal hexapods, in crustaceans and in myriapods. We also use a range of species including beetles, centipedes and onychophorans to study the mechanisms that lead to axial patterning and segmentation in species that develop in ways very different from the well studied Drosophila. We use a range of genetic and embryological techniques including comparative genomics, molecular embryology, 4D live imaging, gene knockdown by RNAi and transgenesis. We have been members of the Marie Curie training networks Zoonet and Evonet, consortia of laboratories across Europe studying the evolution of development and gene regulatory networks.  We are members of the Strigamia maritima genome consortium, which  sequenced and annotated the first myriapod genome (that of a centipede), now published at


Key publications: 
  • Clark, E., Peel, A.D. and Akam, M. (2019) Arthropod segmentation. Development 146 (18). dev170490
  • Clark, E. and Akam, M. (2016) Odd-paired controls frequency doubling in Drosophila segmentation by altering the pair-rule gene regulatory network. eLife 10.7554/eLife.18215  doi:
  • Chipman, A. D., Ferrier, D. E. K., Brena, C., [99 others], Akam, M. and Richards, S. (2014) The first myriapod genome sequence reveals conservative arthropod gene content and genome organisation in the centipede Strigamia maritima. PLOS Biology 12(11): e1002005.  doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002005
  • Hunnekuhl, V. S. and Akam, M. (2014) An anterior medial cell population with an apical-organ-like transcriptional profile that pioneers the central nervous system in the centipede Strigamia maritima. Dev. Biol. 396:136-149.  doi:10.1016/j.ydbio.2014.09.020
  • Konopova, B. and Akam, M. (2014) The Hox genes Ultrabithorax and abdominal-A specify three different types of abdominal appendage in the springtail Orchesella cincta (Collembola).  EvoDevo 5: 2.  doi:10.1186/2041-9139-5-2
  • Brena, C. and Akam, M. (2013) An analysis of segmentation dynamics throughout embryogenesis in the centipede Strigamia maritima.  BMC Biology 11:112.  DOI: 10.1186/1741-7007-11-112
  • Green, J. E. and Akam, M. (2013) Evolution of the pair-rule gene network: Insights from a centipede.  Dev. Biol. 382:235-245. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2013.06.017
  • Benton, M. A., Akam, M. and Pavlopoulos, A. (2013) Cell and tissue dynamics during Tribolium embryogenesis revealed by versatile fluorescence labeling approaches.  Development  140:3210-3220  doi:10.1242/dev.096271
  • Brena, C. and Akam, M. (2012) The embryonic development of the centipede Strigamia maritima.  Dev. Biol. 363:290-307.  doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2011.11.006
  • Pavlopoulos, A. and Akam, M. (2011). The Hox gene Ultrabithorax subtly regulates distinct sets of target genes at successive stages of haltere morphogenesis and differentiation. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA  108:2855-2860.
Other publications: 
  • Hunnekuhl , V. and Akam, M. (2017) Formation and subdivision of the head field in the centipede Strigamia maritima, as revealed by the expression of head gap gene orthologues and hedgehog dynamics. EvoDevo 8:18   doi: 10.1186/s13227-017-0082-x
  • Green, J. E., Dalíková, M., Sahara, K., Marec, F. and Akam, M. (2016) XX/XY system of sex determination in the geophilomorph centipede Strigamia maritima.  PLoS One 11: e0150292.  doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150292 
  • Janssens, H., Siggens, K., Cicin-Sain, D., Jiménez-Guri, E., Musy, M., Akam, M. and Jaeger, J. (2014) A quantitative atlas of Eve and Hb expression in Clogmia albipunctata (Diptera,Psychodidae).  EvoDevo 5: 1. doi:10.1186/2041-9139-5-1   
  • Green, J. E. and Akam, M. (2014) Germ cells of the centipede Strigamia maritima are specified early in embryonic development.  Dev. Biol.  392:419-430.   doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2014.06.003.
  • Brena, C., Green, J., Akam, M. (2013) Early embryonic determination of the sexual dimorphism in segment number in geophilomorph centipedes.  EvoDevo 4:22.  DOI: 10.1186/2041-9139-4-22

See Google Scholar  for a complete list of Michael Akam's publications

1866 Professor of Zoology (Emeritus)

Contact Details

Room 2.06
Zoology Level 2 laboratories
David Attenborough Building
(accessed from Zoology reception)
01223 (3)30114