Hopi E. Hoekstra – Digging for Genes that Affect Behavior

Hoekstra_photo_smSager Lecture
“Digging for Genes that Affect Behavior”
Hopi E. Hoekstra, Harvard University; Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Friday, July 8, 2016, 8 – 9pm
Lillie Auditorium
Lectures are free and open to the public.

Introduction by Richard Behringer, Professor, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Lecture Abstract:

Understanding which genes affect important behaviors, and how they work in the brain, remains a major challenge in biology. To address this goal, we are capitalizing on natural variation in behavior within and between species of deer mice (genus Peromyscus). In this talk, I will focus on an innate behavior – burrowing, which produces an intriguing and complex animal architecture – to explore the genetics and neurobiology of behavioral evolution. To end, I will reflect on how studying natural variation in mice can shed light onto the genetics of human behavior.

Hopi Hoekstra is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, jointly appointed in the Departments of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, and an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She is also the Curator of Mammals in the Museum of Comparative Zoology.  She has an appointment in the Center for Brain Science and is a member of the BioPhysics and Neurobiology graduate programs.  She is also an Institute Member at the Broad Institute.

She received her B.A. with Highest Honors in Integrative Biology at University of California Berkeley. She then earned her PhD in Zoology as a Howard Hughes Predoctoral Fellow at the University of Washington, Seattle. She was a NIH NRSA Fellow at the University of Arizona, before starting as an Assistant Professor at University of California, San Diego.  She was recruited to Harvard as a John L. Loeb Associate Professor three years later in 2007.

Hoekstra is an evolutionary geneticist, who studies the molecular basis of adaptation in wild deer mice.  Her work spans the fields of evolution, behavior, morphology, genetics, genomics, development and neurobiology.  Her first major work focused on the genetic basis of cryptic coloration in wild mice, but more recently her lab is extending this work to study the genetic and neural basis of natural behaviors.

Hoekstra has been awarded the Ernst Mayr Prize from the Society for Systematic Biologists, the Young Investigator Award from the American Society of Naturalists, an Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young investigator Award and most recently the Richard Lounsbery Award from the National Academy of Sciences.

Hoekstra currently teaches in the introductory Life Sciences 1B: Genetics, Genomics and Evolution course. She has been recognized for her contributions to teaching, first by being awarded a Fannie Cox Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Sciences and most recently, a five-year Harvard College Professorship.


Ruth SagerAbout the Sager Lecture

Dr. Ruth Sager was chief of cancer genetics at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a professor at Harvard Medical School where she was an acknowledged expert on suppressor genes and their relation to breast cancer. Dr. Sager was the author of more than 200 scientific papers on cancer genetics and the existence of DNA outside of cell nuclei, her first field of research, which she pursued through the study of algae. In 1988, Dr. Sager received the Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal in phycology. This medal is awarded every three years in recognition of excellence in published research on marine or freshwater algae. After switching her field of study to breast cancer in 1972, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship and studied the disease for a year at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratory in London, England. Dr. Sager graduated from the University of Chicago. She earned a master’s degree at Rutgers University and a doctorate at Columbia University. Dr. Sager was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1977. She was a professor at Hunter College until 1975, when she joined Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Her cancer research involved the identification of more than 40 possible tumor suppressor genes with implications in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. She also proved “by persistent counterexample, where originality leads,” according to the University of Chicago Magazine article, published in 1994 when she was named alumna of the year. Dr. Sager died of cancer in March, 1997, at the age of 79.