July 01, 2013

Evolution of the deer mouse: Hopi Hoekstra

The way an organism looks and behaves is influenced by the genes it inherits. Through a process known as natural selection, genetic traits that are helpful for survival are passed to future generations, while traits that are less useful are selected out. For example, a fish that swims faster than another is more likely to escape from predators, reproduce, and pass down various inherited traits than its slower counterparts.

Hopi Hoekstra, a professor in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard, and our guest this month on CTOR, is studying a longstanding question in biology: how do genes contribute to evolutionary adaptations? Listen as Dr. Hoekstra talks about how her lab uses the deer mouse to study the genetic basis of coat color, and burrowing behaviors. In addition, her research has important connections to human genetics and behavior. The genes her lab studies that determine pigmentation in the deer mouse are the same genes that determine hair color and skin cancer susceptibility in humans. And while humans obviously don’t burrow, the genes that affect burrowing and exploratory behaviors in the deer mouse could affect motivation and anxiety in humans. At the end of our talk, Dr. Hoekstra’s discusses her interest in political science before switching to a career in science.

This interview is part of an ongoing collaboration between Carry the One Radio and the Women in Life Sciences (WILS) group at UCSF.

More on the Hoekstra Lab's research

Women in Life Sciences (WILS)

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