Bell Lab

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Research in the Bell lab is focused on understanding why individual animals behave differently from each other. Even an individual fish, for example, behaves differently from other fish, through time and across situations. We study the proximate and ultimate causes of individual variation in the three-spined stickleback. Work in the Bell lab is focused on understanding behavioral variation both from a proximate and ultimate perspective. To that end, we study the neuroendocrine and molecular mechanisms that contribute to behavior, and the selective pressures that maintain variation within natural populations.

The Bell lab is involved in a collaborative project in our theme at the Carl Woese Institute for Genomic Biology to test the hypothesis that there is a ‘genetic toolkit’ for social behavior. We are comparing neurogenomic responses to social opportunities and challenges among honeybees, sticklebacks, and mice (PIs: Gene Robinson and Lisa Stubbs).

Our Principal Investigator is Alison Marie Bell.

Check out at our website here.

Present Work

Present work in the lab focuses on behavioral variation, behavioral plasticity, transgenerational plasticity, and individual differences. Our work combines field and lab behavioral experiments, neuroendocrine analyses and often capitalizes on the natural diversity among different populations to understand the evolutionary context in which behavioral variation and plasticity play out. Many of the current projects in the lab use neurogenomic techniques, including measuring brain gene expression with RNA-seq and relating changes in gene expression to changes in chromatin accessibility with ChIP-seq in order to understand how the genome dynamically responds to the environment (Bell and Robinson 2011). Our lab performed the first brain gene expression studies on this species when we asked how the expression of the genome changes in response to predation risk (Sanogo et al. 2011). Since then, we’ve studied how the genome responds to a territorial challenge (Sanogo et al. 2012, Bukhari et al. 2017), a courtship opportunity (Sanogo and Bell 2016), both mothers’ (Mommer and Bell 2014) and fathers’ (Stein and Bell 2014) experience with predation risk, and how brain gene expression profiles differ between behavioral types (Bell et al. 2016). To help understand the functional relationships between gene expression and behavior, we are developing viral-mediated gene transfer methods in the brain as part of a collaborative NSF EDGE grant to develop functional tools for sticklebacks. Check out the tabs below to learn more