Valerie Tornini

Valerie Tornini

Assistant Professor

Office: 1163 TLSB


I was born and raised in Port Chester, NY, and received my B.S. in biology and A.B. in religion from Duke University. I completed my doctoral training in developmental and stem cell biology and earned my PhD from Duke University, where I investigated how cells in a complex adult tissue coordinately regenerate a patterned structure after injury, primarily using the adult zebrafish fin as a model. I next did my postdoctoral training in the Department of Genetics at Yale School of Medicine, this time using embryonic and larval zebrafish (more info below). Integral to my scientific contributions and philosophies are mentoring, multilingual community engagement, and efforts that prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in science. Beyond my professional commitments, I enjoy traveling, playing volleyball and tennis, and spending time in nature with her dog. I am thrilled to start my faculty career through UCLA’s Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) Infrastructure Initiative in the Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology and the Institute for Society and Genetics.

Research Interests

Dr. Valerie Tornini is a developmental biologist who investigates the cellular and molecular mechanisms of cell specification and specialization in development, particularly of the brain. Her work focuses on understanding the evolving roles of chromatin regulators (including those implicated in autism) and of micropeptides (or sORF-encoded proteins) in vertebrate development. By using zebrafish and other comparative animal models, she is taking candidate and discovery approaches to investigate the gene regulatory networks that establish the cellular diversity of the developing brain. This includes the application of genome engineering, single-cell technologies, behavioral analyses, and pharmacological approaches. Her lab’s current work spans multiple areas, including identifying roles for novel micropeptides in neurodevelopment; chromatin regulators in vertebrate development and behavior; non-neuronal regulation during development and aging; the evolution of vertebrate brain cell states; and bioethics, neuroethics, and genetics.


BS, Biology, Duke University
AB, Religion, Duke University
PhD, Cell Biology, Duke University
Postdoctoral Fellowship, Department of Genetics, Yale School of Medicine