293 Farm Lane,
138 Giltner Hall
East Lansing, Mi 48824

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jason gallant


Ph.D. Cornell University B.S. Trinity College, Hartford, CT (Biology and Human Rights) Postdoctoral Research, Boston University

Research Interest

Vertebrates have evolved a multitude of adaptive traits to exploit resources in the air, on the land, and in the water. Many charismatic, uniquely vertebrate traits such as fins, limbs, feathers, teeth evolved once long ago, and enabled profound diversification. While the evolution of novel traits has led to a rich tapestry of species, the single origin of these traits presents a statistical dilemma for evolutionary biologists: they are single replicate ‘experiments’ that lack power to resolve how and why novel traits evolve. For this reason, my research program focuses on electric fish, vertebrate species that have independently evolved electric organs six times. In each case, electric organs evolved to produce electric fields for the purposes of communication and navigation, and occasionally for predation and defense. Two parallel electric fish lineages have undergone rapid speciation as a consequence of electric organ evolution and exhibit convergent evolution at every biological level: from molecules to ecology. The electric fish system is therefore highly amenable to understanding the link between genotype and phenotype because it provides replicated natural experiments in which evolution has produced similar phenotypic outcomes both within and between lineages. I leverage these convergent evolutionary outcomes to tackle three broad questions on the cutting edge of evolutionary biology: (1) How do changes in the genome lead to the evolution of novel phenotypes? (2) What are the evolutionary forces that influence this process? and (3) What are the consequences of this interaction for the evolution of biodiversity? Our work is

fundamentally integrative and spans biological levels of analysis and disciplines, including ecology and evolution, genomics and bioinformatics, physiology, developmental biology, and animal behavior. Our work takes place in the field, the laboratory and in silico.

Most recently, we've embarked on several projects to investigate the idiosyncratic reproductive systems of African weakly electric fish. Our first project is to determine the genetic basis of sex, which appears to be under the control of a master sex determining gene that has convergently evolved in numerous teleost lineages. Our second project focuses on sperm morphology: our fish are the only vertebrates on the planet that naturally lack flagella on their sperm! We have identified a candidate causal mutation for this phenotype, and are exploring the consequences of this adaptation using multiple approaches.

Research Topics

  • Developmental Biology
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Genomics
  • Reproductive Biology
  • Behavior

Representative Publications

Picq, S., Sperling, J., Cheng, C. J., Carlson, B. A., & Gallant, J. R. (2020). Genetic Drift Does Not Sufficiently Explain Patterns of Electric Signal Variation among Populations of the Mormyrid Electric Fish Paramormyrops Kingsleyae. Evolution, 74(5), 911-935. doi:10.1111/evo.13953

Losilla, M., Luecke, D. M., & Gallant, J. R. (2020). The Transcriptional Correlates of Divergent Electric Organ Discharges in Paramormyrops Electric Fish. BMC Evol Biol, 20(1), 6. doi:10.1186/s12862-019-1572-3

Gallant, J. R. (2019). The Evolution and Development of Electric Organs In B. A. Carlson, J. Sisneros, A. N. Popper, & R. R. Fay (Eds.), Electroreception: Fundamental Insights from Comparative Approaches. Switzerland, AG: Springer Nature.

Constantinou, S. J.**, Nguyen, L., Kirschbaum, F., Salazar, V. L., & Gallant, J. R. (2019). Silencing the Spark: Crispr/Cas9 Genome Editing in Weakly Electric Fish. J Vis Exp(152). doi:10.3791/60253

Gallant, J. R., Traeger, L. L., Volkening, J. D., Moffett, H., Chen, P. H., Novina, C. D., . . . Sussman, M. R. (2014). Genomic Basis for the Convergent Evolution of Electric Organs. Science, 344(6191), 1522-1525.

NCBI Bibliography