||Just before COVID-19 reared its ugly head here in the states, I came across a university lab doing some fascinating cichlid research on breeding behavior. Using Astatotilapia burtoni, a maternal mouthbrooder from Lake Tanganyika in Africa, as the model fish for the research, Dr. Scott Juntti’s lab is attempting to unlock some of the mysteries surrounding A. burtoni breeding behavior.
Dr. Juntti became interested in neuroscience as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, where he fell in love with life in the lab. After completing his undergraduate work, including stops at labs in Germany and San Diego, he began his graduate work at the University of California, San Francisco. There he began working in Dr. Nirao Shah’s lab, where he studied social behavior using molecular genetic approaches in mice.
If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you’re probably aware of my disdain for extraneous, anthropogenic (man made) noises in aquariums. Such noises occur in the natural environments (boat motors, industrial machinery) of many cichlids. Eliminating such noises is unrealistic. Reducing them is not. I used to have a sister blog called The Bio Stage (it’s coming back, btw). In that blog, I often wrote about the effects of anthropogenic noise on cetaceans (e.g., dolphins and whales).
In 2016, while looking for a new interviewee for the blog, I ran across the website of a research laboratory at the University of Texas, Austin. I checked out the website, looked at a few of the lab’s publications, and it became quickly obvious to me that the lab’s director, Dr. Hans Hofmann, was someone I needed to interview.
I reached out to Dr. Hofmann, introduced myself, and asked him if he would be interested in doing an interview for the blog. He replied within a couple of days and happily agreed. We began the interview process, but work caught up with him, and we weren’t able to get it completed. So fast forward to the present, and we did a complete reboot of the original interview.
Since receiving his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Leipzig in Germany, Dr. Hofmann has received numerous fellowships and awards for his work at the University of Texas, Stanford University, Harvard University, and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In addition to running the Hofmann lab at the University of Texas, he has served as Director of UT’s Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics and UT’s Center for Biomedical Research Support. He has given over 130 invited keynote lectures and seminars but has also given numerous public outreach presentations.
Needless to say, getting Dr. Hofmann to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions with me was a real bonus. Outstanding stuff ahead. Buckle in!
I promised when I started the blog that I would bring you interviews with professionals from all aspects of fish keeping. Even though I am an amateur aquarist and this blog is for hobbyists, science regularly informs the hobby. Therefore, let me introduce Dr. Karen Maruska. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Louisiana State University (LSU). She received her B.S. from University of New Hampshire, M.S. from Florida Tech, Ph.D. from University of Hawaii, and postdoc at Stanford University. Her research uses fishes as vertebrate models to study how the brain controls social behaviors such as reproduction and aggression. All photos courtesy of Karen Maruska.
Let’s get started.
The Cichlid Stage: Your research revolves around fish, especially cichlids. How and/or why did you become interested in conducting research on fish?