Part III: Genetics of Behavior
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In Part 1, Hoekstra explains that her lab is working to understand how changes in an organism’s DNA result in adaptations that allow the organism to better survive or reproduce in the wild. She uses wild mice in the genus Peromyscus (commonly referred to as deer mice) as a model system because they are found in large numbers in many different habitats, allowing for many examples of adaptation to local environments, and they also thrive in a lab environment.
In Part 2, Hoekstra explains how members of her lab studied the effects of a phenotypic adaptation, in this case coat color, on the ability of mouse populations to survive in different habitats. By crossing mice with light and dark coats and analyzing the genomes of the offspring, Hoekstra and her colleagues were able to identify several genes, and specific mutations in those genes, that determine coat color. Amazingly, one of the same mutations may have determined coat color in ancient mammoths!
The link between genes and behavior is the focus of Hoekstra’s third talk. By studying burrowing behavior in two species of mice, both in the lab and in the wild, Hoekstra showed that burrowing is not strictly a learned behavior and is, in fact, controlled by a small number of genes.
After a short stint studying political science in college, Hopi Hoekstra switched her focus to biology. She received her B.A. in Integrative Biology from UC Berkeley, and her Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Washington. She completed postdoctoral research at the University of Arizona, and, in 2003, she joined the faculty at UC San Diego. Three years later, she moved to Harvard University, where she is the Agassiz Professor of Zoology in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. Hoekstra is also Curator of Mammals at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology.
Dr. Hoekstra is interested in the genetic basis of variation in natural populations of mammals. Members of her lab use a variety of techniques, both in the lab and in the field, to address questions about the evolution of morphological and behavioral diversity. Hoekstra’s research has received wide recognition and recently she was profiled in the New York Times.
Find out more about Dr. Hoekstra’s research at her lab website.
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Hoekstra, H.E. 2010. From mice to molecules: the genetic basis of color adaptation. In In the Light of Evolution: Essays from the Laboratory and Field. (Ed. J.B. Losos). Roberts and Co. Publishers, Greenwood Village, CO.
Manceau, M., V.S Domingues, C.R. Linnen, E.B. Rosenblum and H.E. Hoekstra. 2010. Convergence in pigmentation at multiple levels: mutations, genes and function. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 365:2439-2450.
Hoekstra, H.E., Hirschmann, R.J., Bundey, R.J., Insel, P. and J.P. Crossland. 2006. A single amino acid mutation contributes to adaptive color pattern in beach mice. Science 313:101-104.
Steiner, C.C., J.N. Weber and H.E. Hoekstra. 2007. Adaptive variation in beach mice caused by two interacting pigmentation genes. PLoS Biology 5(9):1880-1889.
Vignieri, S.N., J. Larson and H.E. Hoekstra. 2010. The selective advantage of cryptic coloration in mice. Evolution 64:2153-2158.
Weber, J.N., B.K. Peterson and H.E. Hoekstra. 2013. Discrete genetic modules are responsible for the evolution of complex burrowing behaviour in deer mice. Nature 493:402-405.
Hoekstra, H.E. 2010. In search of the elusive behavior gene. In Search of the Causes of Evolution: From Field Observations to Mechanisms. (Eds. P. Grant and R. Grant). Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
Weber, J.N. and H.E. Hoekstra. 2009. The evolution of burrowing behavior in deer mice. Animal Behavior 77:603-609.