Open Field Tests

A line drawing of two mice walking similar paths, but one is curvy because that mouse is woozy. Understanding or measuring how animals think is difficult when they can’t talk to you. You can’t ask ‘what are you feeling?‘ much less, ‘why do you feel that way?‘, but it is still important to understand. For instance, we study drugs to all kinds of psychological issues (depression, alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, etc) in rodents like mice and rats. Therefore, biologists have developed behavioral tests that inform us about what the animal is thinking or feeling.

The open field test measures general activity level and exploration behaviors. This lets us get a feel for how the animal behaves normally and is frequently used as a control in an experiment. In addition, numerous factors can influence how much an animal moves so by controlling what changes between tests, we can begin to understand how what we are testing influences the animal’s thinking.

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In situs

In situ hybridization (ISH) is a technique that allow you to visualize a gene’s location. The location is typically determined at the level of the cell or tissue region. However, chromosome painting is also a form of in situ and has a better resolution. In general, if a scientist is talking about ‘in situs’ or WISH, they are referring to the form that shows where a gene is being expressed.

In situ hybridization is like a Google search, where the probe is our search term.

At the most basic level, ISH simply attaches a labeled probe of DNA or RNA (nucleic acids) to other DNA or RNA. You can think of in situs as the Google search of biology. In Google, you can search a variety of media (websites, videos, or images) based off whatever you put in the search box. Using in situs we can search the various forms of nucleic acids based off the probe whose sequence is known.

Thus, many different techniques with a variety of goals fall under the broad category of ISH. This can lead to a lot of confusion even within the field of biology. At a conference dinner I was discussing my work on developing FISH for sticklebacks and at least one PhD at the table thought I was talking about chromosome painting for most of the conversation until what I was saying stopped making any sense. So if you find this confusing, you are in good company.

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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).

Think fish behavior is boring? Not a chance - BBC2’s springwatch featured two stickleback dads.
Watch the high drama trailer.

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