Washington University in St. Louis
Campus Box 1137
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
DBBS graduate programs Neurosciences Program
Molecular Genetics and Genomics Program
Evolution, Ecology and Population Biology Program
Animal behavior is mediated by the nervous system, according to information encoded in the genome. The Ben-Shahar lab uses a variety of behavioral, genetic, genomic, biochemical, and molecular techniques to decipher the genetic architecture that drives specific behaviors. We use the powerful model of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster to understand how the function of specific genes in distinct neuronal circuits gives rise to behaviors such as feeding and mating. We are also interested in taking advantage of the recent sequencing of 12 genomes of species from the Drosophila genus, which now allow us to ask questions about the evolution of behavior.
Currently the lab is focusing on several projects:
- The role of ligand-gated ion channels as neuronal modulators and sensory transducers
- The role of neuropeptides and their receptors in modulating behavior
- The role of divalent cation transporters in feeding induction and food selection
- The evolution of behaviorally-related genomic modules in the genus Drosophila
Photo caption: Larval GFP expression driven by the promoter of lounge lizard, a member of the Degenerin/ENaC family of cation channels. Dotted line represents the outline of the larval head. Note the expression pattern in two distinct classes of sensory neurons: one mechanosensitive multi-dendritic neurons (md) and two external chemosensory neurons (es) projecting to the terminal taste organ (TO).
Ben-Shahar Y, Thompson CK, Hartz SM, Smith BH and Robinson GE (2000) Differences in performance on a reversal learning test and division of labor in honey bee colonies. Animal Cognition 3:119-125.
Hartz SM, Ben-Shahar Y and Tyler M. (2001) Logistic growth curve analysis in associative learning data. Animal Cognition 4:185-189.
Ben-Shahar Y and Robinson GE. (2001) Satiation differentially affects performance in a learning assay by nurse and forager honey bees. Journal of Comparative Physiology [A] 187:891-899.
Ben-Shahar Y, Robichon A, Sokolowski MB and Robinson GE. (2002) Influence of gene action across different time scales on behavior. Science 296:741-744. ("Must read", Faculty of 1000; reported in the NY Times; Washington Post; Ha-Aretz; German Public Radio; CBC Radio, Canada; South African Public Radio; Genome News Network; Mutant of the Month, Nature Genetics, December, 2006)
Robinson GE and Ben-Shahar Y. (2002) Social behavior and comparative genomics: new genes or new gene regulation? Genes Brain and Behavior 1:197-203.
Ben-Shahar Y, Leung H-T, Pak WL, Sokolowski MB and Robinson GE. (2002) division of labor in honey bee colonies is influenced by cGMP-dependent changes in phototaxis. Journal of Experimental Biology 206:2507-2515.
Ben-Shahar Y, Dudek N and Robinson GE. (2004) malvolio, manganese, and division of labor in honey bee colonies: deconstructing a complex phenotype. Journal of Experimental Biology 207: 3281-3288. (Cover)
Fitzpatrick MJ, Ben-Shahar Y, Smid HM, Vet LEM, Robinson GE and Sokolowski MB. (2005) Candidate genes for behavioural ecology. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20:96-104.
Ben-Shahar Y (2005) The foraging gene, behavioral plasticity, and honey bee division of labor. Journal of Comparative Physiology [A] 191:987-994.
Whitfield CW, Ben-Shahar Y, Brillet C, Leoncini I, LeConte Y, Rodriguez-Zas S and Robinson GE. (2006) Genomic dissection of behavioral maturation in the honey bee. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103: 16068-16075.
Williams KD, Busto M, Suster ML, So AK, Ben-Shahar Y, Leevers SJ, and Sokolowski MB. (2006) Natural variation in Drosophila melanogaster diapause due to the insulin-regulated PI-3 kinase. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103:15911-15915.
Ben-Shahar Y, Nannapaneni K, Casavant TL, Scheetz TE and Welsh MJ. (2007) Eukaryotic operon-like transcription of functionally related genes in Drosophila. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 222-227. (Must read, Faculty of 1000)
Sun Y, Liu L, Ben-Shahar Y, Jacobs JS, Eberl DF and Welsh MJ. (2009) TRPA channels distinguish gravity sensing from hearing in Johnston’s organ. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106: 13606–13611. (“Recommended”, Faculty of 1000)
Shah A*, Ben-Shahar Y*, Moninger TO, Kline JN and Welsh MJ. (2009) Motile Cilia of Human Airway Epithelia Are Chemosensory. Science 325:1131-1134. (Cover) *Equal contribution. (“Must read”, Faculty of 1000).
Ben-Shahar Y, Lu B, Collier DM, Snyder PM, Schnizler M and Welsh MJ. (2010) The Drosophila Gene CheB42a Is a Novel Modifier of Deg/ENaC Channel Function. PLOS One 5(2): e9395.
Ben-Shahar Y. (2011) Sensory functions for Degenerin/Epithelial sodium channels (DEG/ENaC). Advances in Genetics 76: 1-25.
Lu B, LaMora A, Sun Y, Welsh MJ and Ben-Shahar Y. (2012) ppk23-dependent chemosensory functions contribute to courtship behavior in Drosophila melanogaster. PLoS Genetics 8(3): e1002587.
Greenberg J*, Xia J, Zhang W, Thatcher S, Ament S, Newman T, Green P, Robinson GE and Ben-Shahar Y. (2012) Behavioral plasticity in honey bees is associated with major differences in brain microRNA transcriptome. Genes, Brain, and Behavior 6: 660-670. *Washington University undergraduate student.
Zelle KM*, Lu B*, Pyfrom SC and Ben-Shahar Y. (2013) The genetic architecture of Degenerin/epithelial sodium channels in Drosophila. Genes, Genomes, Genetics (G3) 3: 441–450. *Equal contribution
Nannapaneni K, Ben-Shahar Y, Keen HL, Welsh MJ, Casavant TL and Scheetz TE. (2013) Computational Identification of operon-like transcriptional loci in Eukaryotes. Computers in Biology and Medicine 43: 738–743
Ben-Shahar Y (2015) How nervous systems generate behavior: lessons from insects. Current Opinions in Insect Science. 12:v-vii. pdf