Doctor of Philosophy, Stanford University, BIO-PHD (2017)
Bachelor of Arts, University of California Los Angeles (2009)
Many behaviors are associated with heritable genetic variation [Kendler and Greenspan (2006) Am J Psychiatry 163:1683-1694]. Genetic mapping has revealed genomic regions or, in a few cases, specific genes explaining part of this variation [Bendesky and Bargmann (2011) Nat Rev Gen 12:809-820]. However, the genetic basis of behavioral evolution remains unclear. Here we investigate the evolution of an innate extended phenotype, bower building, among cichlid fishes of Lake Malawi. Males build bowers of two types, pits or castles, to attract females for mating. We performed comparative genome-wide analyses of 20 bower-building species and found that these phenotypes have evolved multiple times with thousands of genetic variants strongly associated with this behavior, suggesting a polygenic architecture. Remarkably, F1 hybrids of a pit-digging and a castle-building species perform sequential construction of first a pit and then a castle bower. Analysis of brain gene expression in these hybrids showed that genes near behavior-associated variants display behavior-dependent allele-specific expression with preferential expression of the pit-digging species allele during pit digging and of the castle-building species allele during castle building. These genes are highly enriched for functions related to neurodevelopment and neural plasticity. Our results suggest that natural behaviors are associated with complex genetic architectures that alter behavior via cis-regulatory differences whose effects on gene expression are specific to the behavior itself.
View details for PubMedID 30397142
Although most animal behaviors are associated with some form of heritable genetic variation, we do not yet understand how genes sculpt behavior across evolution, either directly or indirectly. To address this, I here compile a data set comprised of over 1000 genomic loci representing a spectrum of behavioral variation across animal taxa. Comparative analyses reveal that courtship and feeding behaviors are associated with genomic regions of significantly greater effect than other traits, on average threefold greater than other behaviors. Investigations of whole-genome sequencing and phenotypic data for 87 behavioral traits from the Drosophila Genetics Reference Panel indicate that courtship and feeding behaviors have significantly greater genetic contributions and that, in general, behavioral traits overlap little in individual base pairs but increasingly interact at the levels of genes and traits. These results provide evidence that different types of behavior are associated with variable genetic bases and suggest that, across animal evolution, the genetic landscape of behavior is more rugged, yet predictable, than previously thought.
View details for PubMedID 29563148
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5937184