Perspective

GENES AND NEURAL CIRCUITS UNDERLYING BEHAVIORAL EVOLUTION

Research in the McBride lab takes advantage of evolution in natural populations to understand the genomic and neuronal basis of behavior and the mechanisms by which behaviors evolve. We are an interdisciplinary group with joint membership in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.  We therefore approach our research from multiple perspectives, including evolution, neuroscience, and public health. Methodologically, our work combines evolutionary genomics with field work, molecular genetics, electrophysiology, and neural imaging. Please click on the links to the left to find out more about our perspective, study system, methods, and specific research projects…

Evolutionary perspective: When organisms adapt to new environments, their behavior often evolves in ways that help them survive and reproduce. These behavioral changes are a key element of adaptation and can play a critical role in preventing gene flow during the evolution of new species. Nevertheless, we know very little about the genomic and molecular basis of adaptive behavioral evolution.

Neuroscience perspective: Newly evolved behaviors can be traced to changes in the structure or activity of neural circuits and ultimately to changes in genes. We can therefore gain insight into the molecular and neural control of behavior by identifying tractable examples of behavioral evolution and mapping the changes to genes and neurons.

Public health perspective: We study the molecular basis of behaviors and other traits that adapt mosquitoes to human hosts. Mosquitoes are vectors of human disease, and it is no coincidence that the most efficient and dangerous mosquito vectors are those that specialize in biting humans. An excellent example is our main study species, Aedes aegypti – the major worldwide vector of dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya viruses. Dengue infects hundreds of millions of people every year and there is no vaccine or treatment. However, it may be possible to reduce disease transmission via manipulation of vector mosquito populations. We hope that our work will inform such efforts and help prevent these dangerous mosquitoes from biting and spreading disease to humans.