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Project Proposal

Understanding the genetic basis of phenotypic plasticity

Justin Touchon (Biology)

Phenotypic plasticity, the ability of an organism to change its morphology, behavior or even life-history, in response to their environment, is common in plants and animals. However, although we know much about the ecological ramifications of such dynamic phenotypes, we know reltaively little about how they are actually produced. This project will examine the plastic responses of tadpoles of the Neotropical treefrog Dendropsophus ebraccatus to two different types of predators; mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) and dragonfly nymphs (Family Aeshnidae). In general, fish cause D. ebraccatus tadpoles to develop small clear tails, whereas dragonfly nymphs cause tadpoles to develop large red tails. We will raise groups of tadpoles with caged predators, or in a predator free control, for up to 3 weeks. Every 1–2 days, we will sacrifice individuals and preserve their tail tissue to analyze for messenger RNA. We will prepare samples at Vassar and send them away for RNA sequencing. These data will provide a temporal view of what genes are turned on or off as tadpoles are responding to the risk of predation and are adaptively changing their morphology.

Pre-requisites: Genetics, Basic lab skills, Attention to detail, Interest in animal research

How should students express their interest in this project? Students should indicate on their application why they are interested in my project. All interested candidates will be interviewed.