Evolution of genome function provides a powerful yet underutilized means to identify molecular transducers of behavior. The brains of animals distantly related may look different, but the most important molecules they use for development, neural signaling, and transcriptional regulation are deeply conserved. Thus, comparative work utilizing gene conservation in all its complexity powerfully maps and contextualizes the gene systems in the brain that drive behavior. Selection for behavioral phenotypes allows for functional genomics to stand as an excellent readout for the neural and molecular substrates of behavior.
In my research, I use methodologies derived from the twin evolutionary approaches of conservation and selection to make inferences about neurobiological systems underlying animal behaviors. Using deep sequencing tools for functional genomics, state-of-the-art computing, and neuroanatomical and molecular techniques, my work elucidates important genomic drivers of behaviors as diverse as social aggression, nurturance, and exercise behavior. Such research has the potential to help develop novel interventions aimed at improving human mental, neurological, and cardiovascular health.
I am a postdoctoral fellow at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois. In my present role, I ask comparative questions by bridging labs in an ongoing collaboration between multiple PIs whose work on individual species is joined by the thematic threads of genomes, brains, and behaviors.