Posted July 18, 2018
Drs. Debbie and David Threadgill
There are two laboratories at Texas A&M University that tout
the name “Threadgill.” But, while they may share a name, each lab
is devoted to its own unique niche of research.
Dr. Debbie Threadgill, an assistant professor in the College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Department of
Veterinary Pathobiology (VTPB), investigates bacterial-induced
diseases, while Dr. David Threadgill, a distinguished professor in
the VTPB department and in the College of Medicine’s Department of
Molecular and Cellular Medicine—as well as the director of the
Texas A&M Institute of Genome Sciences and Society—studies
mouse models of cancer.
They started their research careers in Aggieland as graduate
students, though their paths never crossed as undergraduates at
Texas A&M. David graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in
zoology in 1983 and Debbie graduated with a B.S. in animal science
They met, instead, soon after David’s graduation, as doctoral
students at Texas A&M in Dr. Jim Womack’s lab, studying cattle
genes. Their first date was at Mama’s Pizza, which was “the best
pizza in town,” according to David.
Who would have guessed love was in the laboratory?
“When you’re spending up to 50 hours a week together, these
things tend to happen,” she said.
Much to everyone’s surprise, they showed up at the Womack
barbecue together, no one more so than the poor girl Mrs. Womack
brought for David as a surprise blind date.
David Threadgill in the lab with a student
They married in College Station in 1987, with many members of
the Womack lab in attendance, and after finishing their doctorates,
David in 1989 and Debbie in 1990, the two started their scientific
careers first with post-doctoral fellowship positions at Case
Western University, and then with professorships at Vanderbilt and
the University of North Carolina before finishing up at North
Carolina State University and returning to TAMU in 2013.
During their post-doctoral time, their daughters, Caitlyn and
Meaghan, were born, and the couple had to balance raising a family
with developing their research.
Debbie recalls being torn between her two loves, being a mother
and being a scientist. When the former superseded the latter, they
collaborated on their research.
“David had some projects that had a bacterial component that I
assisted with, and, then, I was looking at some bacterial induced
diseases that needed an animal model that he helped out with,”
Although exhausted at times, Debbie believes that working full
time helped her be a better mother.
“Continuing to work was beneficial in helping me to appreciate
the time with my family more,” she said. “Even though I had limited
time with my children, I was much more engaged in their lives and
vigilant in their well-being than I think the tendancy is for a
Now that their girls are grown and the Threadgills are back at
their alma mater, most of their collaborative work involves their
graduate students, whose research sometimes crosses the two
As graduate mentors, they’ve adopted their preferred mentoring
style—David has a more lassiez-faire approach, emulating their
graduate mentor, which he believes allows his students to explore
their interests and come into their own professionally, while
Debbie provides more guidance for her students.
The issue, she says, is that most students wait until they
graduate before questioning what comes next, so Debbie encourages
her students to think about their strengths and interests early on
in their graduate studies.
“Nowadays,” she said, “there are many more opportunities for
graduates than when I was in school, but we are not training for
David agreed, adding, “I think the biggest challenge is there’s
not necessarily one best avenue to go, but most students don’t get
“I encourage students to go and listen to talks that are not
necessarily in their field but strike their interest and talk to
the speakers afterwards,” said Debbie. “The TAMU Genetics graduate
program tries to invite speakers from many walks of scientific
life, from writing, to industry, to teaching, and to research.”
Debbie is empathetic with her students because it took some time
for her to figure out what to do after she received her bachelor’s
But while David quickly realized attending graduate school was
something he wanted, it wasn’t until he took summer courses after
completing his bachelor’s degree that he learned that graduate
school was even a possibility.
Today, for David, it’s all science, all the time, and that’s the
way he likes it.
“Science to me is more of a hobby; it’s not really a job,” he
His “science mind” is on 24/7 and he never turns it off, while
Debbie prefers to have a life outside of the laboratory with her
The summers are ideal for both Threadgills, allowing family and
work to connect; the family often travels together for scientific
conferences, meetings, and seminars that coincide with summer
vacation. During these trips (usually at The Jackson Laboratory in
Bar Harbor, Maine, or Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island,
New York) the family will set aside time for golfing, hiking, and
other outdoor activities, though golfing is the Threadgill family’s
The Threadgill Family: Debbie, Meaghan, Caitlyn, and David
“We told the girls they had to do a sport in high school and
they both chose golf,” said David, who taught the sport to his
daughters and helped them to become better golfers.
An active lifestyle seems to be the one pressure they imposed on
the girls, as, for now, neither Meaghan nor Caitlyn want to be
researchers. Caitlyn is studying to be a nurse practitioner at the
University of Cincinnati after earning degrees in public health and
nutrition, with a minor in molecular biology; Meaghan, an
undergraduate animal science major and Spanish minor at Texas
A&M, wants to do “whatever job will allow her to own horses,”
David said with a chuckle.
Both girls, like their mother, have taken some time to explore
their career trajectories.
“When they ask me, ‘mom, what should I do?’ I don’t like to
limit them,” Debbie said. “I say, ‘I don’t know what you want to do
with your life either so you should try to get work experience in
different areas and see what you enjoy most.’”
Often, during their trips, David spends most of his time on the
golf course either with his family or with other scientists.
“I’ve got a network of probably eight or 10 scientist friends I
know very well; whenever we’re at meetings together, we’ll find a
way to go out,” David said, smiling as he adds, “I spend four hours
on a golf course with my colleagues and what do we do? We talk
science the whole time.”
Reflecting on his career, David said, “there’s a lot of luck
involved with it, being in the right place at the right times and
knowing the right people,” which sounds a lot like how their
relationship came to be in the Womack lab. He goes on to say, “you
never have an end to an experiment because you tend to raise more
questions than you solve.”
Similarly, their marriage is like a lifelong project through
which they learn about each other and themselves.
“You make it as much as you can (with both marriage and
research),” David said. “There’s always challenges, but it’s best
to look at it from the perspective that nothing is ever finished
and nothing’s ever perfect.”
About their Research
Dr. David Threadgill has turned his love for science into a
preeminent career as the director of the Texas A&M Institute
for Genomic Sciences and Society and the holder of the Tom and Jean
McMullin Chair of Genetics in the Texas A&M College of
David’s primary research focuses on identifying genetic and
environmental factors that lead to differences in disease
susceptibility and progression. In 2016, he and his collaborators
received a $5.3 million National Institutes of Health grant to
study how lead exposure affects humans and a $3.2 million grant
from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to
explore genetic factors that account for soldiers’ differences in
response to infectious diseases.
Dr. Debbie Threadgill investigates bacterial-induced digestive
diseases such as those caused by Campylobacter spp. Several
Campylobacter species are known to infect humans and are the main
culprits of bacterial foodborne disease. Campylobacter infection
occurs from eating raw or undercooked poultry leading to an
estimated 1.3 million illnesses each year in the U.S. Infected
individuals usually recover without medical treatment unless the
individual’s immune system is compromised by infection (e.g. AIDS)
or age (i.e. children or the elderly).
For more information about the Texas A&M College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our
website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of CVM Today magazine.
Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive
Director of Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas
A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; email@example.com;
979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)
↑ Back to Top
« Back to Press Releases