- Assistant Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology (Columbia University)
Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute Investigator
There are profound differences in behavior among individuals of a species and across species. Much effort has been devoted to the observation and theory of behavioral variation, but the molecular, genetic, and neurobiological mechanisms that generate and maintain such diversity are largely unknown. My lab studies the mechanisms of behavioral variation from genetic and neurobiological angles—by identifying specific genes involved and how they impact the brain, and by characterizing functional variation in neuronal circuits. We then analyze the common themes that emerge to describe the evolution of behavior.
Work in my lab focuses primarily on deer mice (genus Peromyscus), an excellent system to study natural variation in behavior because (1) there is a large diversity of behavior within and among species and many of these species are interfertile, permitting forward genetic analyses; (2) the genome of multiple Peromyscus species has been sequenced; (3) Peromyscus is diverged from laboratory mice and rats, providing an opportunity to discover biological features that differ from traditional model species; nonetheless, many tools developed for laboratory mice and rats also work in Peromyscus; and (4) Peromyscus mice can breed in the laboratory in the same conditions as laboratory mice, allowing us to perform controlled experiments.
In addition to our primary work in Peromyscus mice, we harness behavioral variation in other vertebrates—including fish and birds—to uncover the molecular, genetic and neurobiological mechanisms that drive behavioral evolution.
Education & Training
Jerome L. Greene Science Center
New York, NY 10027
Bendesky A, Kwon, YM, Lassance JM, Lewarch CL, Yao S, Peterson BK, He MX, Dulac C, Hoekstra HE. The genetic basis of parental care evolution in monogamous mice. Nature. 2017;544:434-439.
News and Views:
Phelps SM. Animal behaviour: How to build a better dad. Nature. 2017;544:418–419.
Snyder-Mackler M, Tung J. Vasopressin and the Neurogenetics of Parental Care. Neuron. 2017;95:9-11.
Hager R. The genes that make a good parent. Trends in Genetics. 2017; In press.
Matheson S. Sorting out complex thoughts and messy emotions. Cell. 2017;169:1157.
Carl Zimmer. Why are some mice (and people) monogamous? A study points to genes. New York Times. April 19, 2017.
Andrea Marks. The mouse parent trap. Scientific American. July 2017.
Bendesky A, Pitts J, Rockman MV, Chen WC, Tan MW, Kruglyak L, Bargmann CI. Long-range regulatory polymorphisms affecting a GABA receptor constitute a quantitative trait locus (QTL) for social behavior in Caenorhabditis elegans. PLoS Genet. 2012;8:e1003157.
Bendesky A, Bargmann CI. Genetic contributions to behavioural variation at the gene-environment interface. Nature Reviews Genetics. 2011.;12:48-56.
Bendesky A, Tsunozaki M, Rockman MV, Kruglyak L, and Bargmann CI. Catecholamine receptor polymorphisms affect decision-making in C. elegans. Nature. 2011;472:313-318.