UMass Boston

Jens Rister

Associate Professor
ISC Floor 04

Area of Expertise

Molecular Biology, Developmental Genetics, Neurobiology


PhD, Genetics and Neurobiology, University of Würzburg, Germany

Professional Publications & Contributions

Additional Information

Research Interests

Higher multicellular organisms can detect a variety of environmental stimuli with their large repertoire of sensory receptor neurons. Jens Rister's lab studies the development of color-sensing photoreceptors in the Drosophila eye as a model for the cell-fate decisions that generate and maintain different sensory neuron types. For instance, in both flies and humans, each photoreceptor neuron expresses a specific color-sensing Rhodopsin/Opsin pigment that defines photoreceptor identity and function throughout the life of the organism.

The distinction of different photoreceptor types in Drosophila involves conserved regulators that have been linked to human retinopathies and cancer (e.g. the Hippo tumor suppressor pathway). To decipher the underlying mechanisms, we are pursuing a multidisciplinary approach that takes advantage of the powerful molecular genetic tools, newly developed gene editing and cell type-specific genomics techniques that Drosophila offers, in combination with live imaging and behavioral assays.

We are currently pursuing the following goals:

  • Elucidate how regulatory DNA controls where, when, and at which levels rhodopsins are expressed in subsets of color-sensing photoreceptors.
  • Generate synthetic regulatory DNA regions to reconstruct the complex rhodopsin expression patterns in vivo.
  • Identify the regulatory logic that controls the mutually exclusive expression of the tumor suppressor warts and the growth regulator melted in subsets of post-mitotic photoreceptors.


  • 2019-2023 - NIH/NEI R01 ‘Mechanisms of vitamin A deprivation and replacement therapy’
  • 2017-2020 -  NIH/NEI R00 Pathway to Independence Award
  • 2014-2016 - NIH/NEI K99 Pathway to Independence Award
  • 2012-2013 - German Research Foundation (DFG) fellowship
  • 2009 - Award of the ‘Unterfränkische Gedenkjahresstiftung fuer Wissenschaft’, University of Würzburg, Germany
  • 2008-2010 - EMBO long-term fellowship
  • 2008 - Biocenter Science Award, University of Würzburg, Germany