Department of Biology

Renn Lab

Student Project Ideas

(check back often as new ideas will be added)

These pages include scientific ideas that supplement my own research interests. I provide a short summary and a few references but students are encouraged to propose independent ideas.

  1. Genetic Basis for Maternal Behavior in A. burtoni * (several projects)
  2. Natural vs. Environmental Sex-Role Reversal among Julidochromis species * (several projects)
  3. Identification of Rapidly Evolving Cichlid Genes with hCGH *
  4. Proof of Principle for hCGH using Drosophila melanogaster (related to project 3)
  5. Sex Determination in African Cichlids
  6. Data Imputation with cDNA Microarray Data
  7. Assortitive Mating by Cichlid Populations
  8. Blue fish / Yellow fish
  9. Bioinformatics (several projects available)
  10. Genomic Resources for Cichlids - complete 2006 Robby Kunkle

(* indicates ongoing projects that are a main focus in our research)


Student Project Idea 1

Maternal Behavior in Astatotilapia burtoni

NSF - Funded Project - Abstract

In all animals, aggression is a complex social behavior with multiple causes and manifestations. Growing evidence suggests that different mechanisms underlie different forms of aggression. This project examines different forms of aggression in the African cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni. Aggression in males of this species is associated with territoriality and is regulated by social factors and testosterone. Previous research has identified brain regions, physiological mechanisms and patterns of gene expression that underlie the variety of aggression levels in males. Laboratory stock females do not care for their young nor do they show stereotypical forms of aggression. However, aggression can be induced in the laboratory through manipulation of the social environment. This form of female aggression, as in males, is associated with elevated testosterone levels. Recent observations of a newly acquired wild stock reveal a "good mother" phenotype that includes defensive aggression to protect free-swimming fry. This new stock will allow a comparison of different hormone levels correlated with different levels of maternal aggression. Furthermore, the availability of genomic tools for this species (a cDNA microarray) will allow the identification of gene expression associated with maternal aggression. The pattern of gene can be then compared between natural maternal aggression, induced female aggression and territorial male aggression. This work will answer questions regarding the extent of overlap between the gene sets that regulate each of these forms of aggression and will identify specific subsets of the gene expression pattern that are uniquely associated with male, female, and/or maternal forms of aggression. Through collaboration between the Renn Lab in the biology department and the Jones team in the math department, undergraduates at Reed College will engage in cutting edge genomic research and rigorous statistical analysis of datasets incorporating measures of behavior, physiology and gene expression.

Many possible student projects stem from this grant proposal

  1. Quantification of behavioral differences between labstock and wildstock mothers.
  2. Quantification of hormonal differences between labstock and wildstock mothers.
  3. Gene Expression profiling for Maternal Aggression.
  4. QTL Analysis for "Good Mother Genes".
  5. Investigation of the Challenge Hypothesis for maternal behavior.
  6. General quantification of behavioral differences among fry from the labstock and wildstock.
  7. Cross-Fostering experiments to determine relative influence of maternal genome and offspring genome.
  8. Investigation of metabolic demands and apetite regulation during mouth brooding.

References -
(little is known about maternal behavior in this species)