William F. Gilly received a BSE (Electrical Engineering, 1972) from Princeton and a Ph.D. (Physiology and Biophysics, 1978) from Washington University. He had additional training at Yale University, University of Pennsylvania and the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole. He has contributed to our basic understanding of electrical excitability in nerve and muscle cells in a wide range of organisms ranging from brittle-stars to mammals. Much of this work employed the giant axon system of the squid as an experimental model system for molecular and biophysical approaches. Additional studies with living squid revealed unexpected complexities in how the giant axon system controls escape responses, and how mechanisms governing that control are modified during development and by environmental factors.
Professor Gilly's current research program on squid concentrates on the behavior, physiology and ecology of Dosidicus gigas, the jumbo or Humboldt squid. Fieldwork in the Gulf of California and off Monterey Bay employs electronic tagging and acoustic methods in order to track vertical and horizontal movements and to estimate biomass. Laboratory studies at Hopkins Marine Station and onboard research vessels focus on hypoxia tolerance and on control of chromatophores, the color-changing organs in the skin. Oceanographic measurements are used to characterize temperature and oxygen levels in relation to vertical movements.
Gilly’s lab also has a history of research on venomous and toxic animals. Work on cone snails addresses the biological factors that lead to toxin diversity within an individual Conus species and mechanisms by which toxins are produced, selected for use and delivered. Tropical species as well as a temperate, local species (Conus californicus) are studied. Tetrodotoxin-bearing salamanders are also being studied in regard to molecular mechanisms of TTX-resistance in voltage-gated sodium channels and how this phenotype has evolved in both toxic salamanders and their main predators, garter snakes.
Members of Professor Gilly's laboratory have gone on to faculty positions at the University of Washington, University of Utah, University of Pennsylvania, Albert Einstein Medical College and University of Puerto Rico.