Stickleback fish

A mostly blue fish with a bright red throat. Meet your typical stickleback dad. My research is based on understanding how genes contribute to his behavior.

You can tell this is a male ready to become a dad because of his blue color and the red-orange color under his throat. Its only during the summer breeding season that he will look like this. Not all males will color up this brightly as it depends on a number of factors including the amount of light and the surrounding environment (gravel color). This particular male has improvised a nest out of small pebbles in his tank that you can see to the right of the plant. Normally, stickleback fish use algae and sand to build nests, but he wasn’t given any.

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Genes, Phenotypes and Traits

We are constantly seeing both news articles as well as scientific publications on new genes - the new gene for intelligence, cancer or happiness. So lets start at the beginning by figuring out what a gene is. Simply, its a way to refer to inherited traits.

When a gene is identified as playing a role in a trait, this can be caused by basically two things - 1) different versions of a gene called an allele or 2) changes in how or where a gene is used. To understand how genes can give rise to different traits, we need to first understand how a gene functions.

Thus, lets look at how, in the simplest case, a trait like the color of a flower, can arise from a gene.

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The basic but complex pieces of biology: DNA, RNA, & Proteins (aka Central Dogma)

All of biology functions around the core of DNA, RNA and Proteins or the so called Central Dogma of Molecular Biology. The key here is that you always go in the order of DNARNA→protein. You can’t jump from DNA to protein or visa versa; it just doesn’t happen. However, you don’t have to go all the way. Just because you made RNA doesn’t automatically mean it will be a protein. This is also not necessarily a one-to-one relationship. One RNA can be used to make several copies of the exact same protein.

Why do I care?

Because a gene can be looked at in each step of the DNARNA→protein progression. We look at all the different steps because how a gene is functioning can be regulated or changed at any point. However, in all cases, we are still interested in the gene.

Biological Levels are also explained through the analogy of a book.

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