Visiting Assistant Professor - Biology, BCMB
Office: Williams 183
- Ph.D., University of Cincinnati 2015
- B.S., Xavier University 2010
- BIOL 111: Foundations of Biology
- BIOL 305: Cell Physiology
- BIOL 306: Genes & Genomes
- BIOL/BCMB 401: Junior Independent Study
The idea of being able to simply observe an organism and know something about its genome or, conversely, to look at genotypic data and know something about how an organism looks, functions or behaves has fascinated me since my first exposure to the principles of genetics and has served as one of my primary motivators as I have pursued educational opportunities and sought out research projects. Along the way, I have also developed an interest not only in identifying the genetic underpinnings of phenotypes, but in helping to develop the tools and resources that enable us to ask these questions in the first place. I am also a strong believer in the power of collaboration, and enjoy using my skill set to assist others in answering questions of interest to them.
Betta splendens, commonly known as the Siamese fighting fish, is a species that is widely known to the public, but comparatively poorly known to the scientific community, especially from a genetic standpoint. However, these fish are tractable in a lab setting, have a dedicated hobbyist community actively engaged in citizen science, and show excellent potential for use in scientific outreach to a wide variety of audiences, making them an extremely attractive study system for scientists who view their research as a teaching tool.
Betta splendens has been used in scientific studies investigating topics ranging from learning and aggression to pest control and the impact of environmental contaminants, but one particular feature of this species has captured the attention of scientists, hobbyists and the general public alike: pigmentation. Betta splendens displays vibrant pigmentation in its natural state, but human intervention through artificial selection has resulted in captive-bred Betta populations showing a wide variety of pigmentation phenotypes that vary in both coloration and patterning. While hobbyists and pet owners prize these fish for their beauty, these derived pigmentation phenotypes are also of scientific interest. Past studies have shown that these changes are not merely aesthetic, but rather that they impact behavior (e.g., mate choice and schooling) and physiology (e.g., immune responses) as well. Despite the attention that this subject has received, the specific genes mediating these changes in pigmentation have yet to be identified.
In our investigation of the genetics underlying various Betta splendens phenotypes, my students and I are picking up where the citizen scientists of the hobbyist community have left off. Specifically, hobbyists have identified a number of coloration patterns (or components thereof) that appear to obey the laws of Mendelian genetics. This means that we can expect that one or more mutations in a single gene are responsible for altering certain aspects of a fish’s pigmentation, for example whether or not a fish is predominantly blue. My lab’s goal is to draw upon what is known about the genetic basis of pigmentation in other species to 1) develop a list of genes potentially underlying these pigmentation phenotypes, 2) successfully determine the coding sequences for as many of these genes as possible, and 3) determine whether there are any apparent coding mutations or differences in gene expression that potentially link these genes with observed pigmentation patterns.