Professor of Evolution, Ecology and Behavior Alison Bell will be assuming leadership of the Gene Networks in Neural & Developmental Plasticity (GNDP) research theme at the IGB. Bell will succeed Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology Lisa Stubbs, who has accepted a position at Pacific Northwest Research Institute.
Many new parents are familiar with terms like “baby brain” or “mommy brain” that hint at an unavoidable decline in cognitive function associated with the hormonal changes of pregnancy, childbirth, and maternal caregiving. A new study of parental care in stickleback fish is a reminder that such parenting-induced changes in the brain and associated shifts in cognition and behavior are not just for females—and they’re not just for mammals either.
Throughout the living world, parents have many ways of gifting their offspring with information they will need to help them survive. A new study in Nature Ecology and Evolution examining the effects of exposure to predators across two generations of stickleback fish yielded a surprising insight into how such transgenerational information is used.
The three-spined stickleback is a funny sort of a fish. They’re somewhat non-distinct: drabbish silver, small, and minnow-like, native to salt- and freshwater bodies throughout most of the Northern hemisphere. However, different stickleback populations have evolved very distinct morphological traits, demonstrating a natural diversity that makes them an ideal candidate in which to examine the mechanics of adaptive evolution and ecology.
Researchers report that some stickleback fish fathers can have long-term effects on the behavior of their offspring: The most attentive fish dads cause their offspring to behave in a way that makes them less susceptible to predators. These behavioral changes are accompanied by changes in gene expression, the researchers report.
The findings appear in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
With a mate and a nest to protect, the male threespined stickleback is a fierce fish, chasing and biting other males until they go away.
Now researchers are mapping the genetic underpinnings of the stickleback’s aggressive behavior. Armed with tools that allow them to see which genes are activated or deactivated in response to social encounters, a team from the University of Illinois has identified broad patterns of gene activity that correspond to aggression in this fish.
A paper describing their work appears in the Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences.
Alison Bell, a University of Illinois animal biology professor and affiliate of the Institute for Genomic Biology, is the recipient of the 2012 Young Investigator Award from the Animal Behavior Society. The society recognized Bell for her “remarkable research contributions to the field of animal behavior and the early training of young scholars” in her laboratory.