Biology Fun-damentals

Who I Am

I am a graduate student in Neuroscience at the University of Illinois, working in Dr. Alison Bell’s Animal Biology lab. Prior to grad school, I worked as a technician/lab manager for 6 years in Dr. Phil Newmark’s molecular and cellular biology lab. My undergrad major was Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis. If you want to know more, you can check out my CV.

My main research interests are behavioral genetics and social neurogenesis.


I have worked with:

Threespine stickleback fish Planarians Fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster)
An adult male and female threespine stickleback fish.     Staining of the brain and nerves in an asexual planarian. The normally brown worm is now clear to allow you to see the labeled locations.     Staining of the brain and nerves in an asexual planarian. The normally brown worm is now clear to allow you to see the labeled locations.

Not pictured: Toxoplasma gondii, E. coli, freshwater snails

Altering behavioral gene expression in the brain - Viral-mediated transgensis

Protocol Paper (WIP)
Talk (Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference 2018)
Poster (Society for Neuroscience (SfN) 2018 Annual Conference)

One method to test the role a gene has in the brain is to over express it. By looking for a change in behavior after altering the gene’s expression we can see what role it plays. For example, if we increase the expression of gene MAOA and then the fish bites more at other fish, it suggests that MAOA is important for aggression.

I am particularly interested in doing this in adult animals as many genes that are used in during childhood development are used for completely different things later in life. Additionally, in animals, we can use naturally-reared, wild-caught animals which reduces the effects of artificial rearing. We also want to have this effect be transient so that we can limit the effect to a short but important time period - like during parenting but not during conception or visa versa.

Social Neurogenesis

There is a lot of variation in the ability of animals to make new brain cells, called neurogenesis, as adults. Some animals, like planarians, can make a whole new brain from scratch. Others, like humans, have very limited ability to make new brain cells that is restricted to specific regions of the brain. Sticklebacks are capable of making more brain cells than humans and increase their brain size throughout their life.

Many situations can change the rate that new brain cells are made. Things like stress and social isolation reduce the rate while things like exercise and enriched environments can enhance the rate. I am interested in how an event like successfully defending a territory can influence the rate of neurogenesis.

FISH on Fish - In situ Hybridization

Protocol Paper (Evolutionary Ecology Research 2016)

In situ hybridization is a technique that allow you to visualize where a gene is being expressed. The location can be determined at the level of the cell. We use this technique to link behavioral variation (such as aggression levels) with changes in where genes are being expressed. Ideally this allows us to identify regions of the brain that participate in the behavioral response.

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This work by Noelle James is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.