Jennifer Brisson


Contact Information

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Assistant Professor
Office: Hutchison 310
Office Hours: Monday 10:00-11:00AM; Thursday 1:00-2:00PM
Phone: (585) 275-8392
Lab Website
Research Interests: Evolution of morphology; Molecular basis of phenotypic plasticity; Evolution and development in the pea aphid; The role of epigenetics in polyphenism  

Research Overview

Research in the laboratory investigates the molecular genetic basis of morphological evolution. We're interested in how both nature and nurture affect final adult morphology. We use a variety of approaches including genetics, genomics and developmental biology.

Our study system is the pea aphid. Aphids are remarkable insects, able to produce a variety of morphologies across their complex life cycles that alternate between asexual and sexual development. During the asexual phase, females are often wingless and specialize in the mass production of genetically identical wingless daughters. However, if their host plant becomes too crowded, those same females can switch to producing daughters that have wings as adults so that those daughters can fly away and find better food sources. Thus, winged and wingless females of pea aphids are genetically identical yet morphologically very different. How these alternative morphologies are produced is one of the main questions we address in the lab.

During their sexual phase in the fall, pea aphids produce winged and wingless males as well. However, unlike the females the males are not genetically identical and their morphology is not determined by environmental circumstances. Rather, adult male morphology appears to be under the control of a single locus on the X chromosome called aphicarus. A main research interest in the lab addresses identifying the aphicarus locus and figuring out how it acts.

Ongoing projects in the lab include:

1. Genetic mapping of the aphicarus locus in collaboration with David Stern;

2. Developmental investigations into wing formation and/or degeneration in the winged and wingless morphs;

3.Transcriptomic and proteomic approaches to understanding the molecular basis of wing morph induction in females;

4. The role of DNA methylation in the female polyphenism.

Selected Publications

  • Zera, A. J., and J. A. Brisson. 2015. Evolutionary and ecological physiology of polyphenism: Integrating proximate and ultimate mechanisms. In: Integrative Organismal Biology. Eds: Martin, L. B., Ghalambor, C. K., and A. Woods. Oxford University Press. Invited Chapter.
  • Purandare, S., Bickel, R. D., Jaquiery, J., Rispe, C., and J. A. Brisson. 2014. Accelerated evolution of morph-biased genes in pea aphids. Mol. Biol. Evol. 31: 2073-2083.
  • Purandare, S. R., Tenhumberg, B., and J. A. Brisson. 2014. Comparison of the wing polyphenic response of pea aphids (Acyrthosiphon pisum) to crowding and predator cues. Ecological Entomology. 39:263-266.
  • Vellichirammal, N. N., Schilder, R. J., Wehrkamp, C., Riethoven, J-J. M., Zera, A. J., and J. A. Brisson.  2014. De novo transcriptome assembly from fat body and flight muscle transcripts to identify morph-specific gene expression profiles in Gryllus firmus. PLoS ONE. 9(1): e82129.
  • Bickel, R. D., Dunham, J. P., and J. A. Brisson. 2013. Widespread selection across coding and noncoding DNA in the pea aphid genome. G3: GENES, GENOMES, GENETICS. 3: 993-1001.
  • Zera, A. J., and J. A. Brisson. Quantitative, physiological, and molecular genetics of dispersal/migration. Chapter in Dispersal: Causes and Consequences. Clobert, J., Baguette, M., Benton, T., and J. Bullock, eds. Oxford University Press. In press.
  • Ishikawa, A., Ishikawa, Y., Yasukazu, O, Miyazaki, S, Miyakawa, H., Koshikawa, S, Brisson, J. A., and T. Miura. 2012. Screening of up-regulated genes induced by high density in the vetch aphid Megoura crassicauda. J. Exp. Zool. A. 317:194-203.
  • Srinivasan, D. G., and J. A. Brisson. 2012. Aphids: a model for polyphenism and epigenetics. Genetics Research International. 2012:1-12.
  • Hunt, B., Brisson, J. A., Yi, S., and M. Goodisman. 2010. Functional conservation of DNA methylation in the pea aphid and the honeybee. Genome Biol. Evol. 2: 719-728. 
  • International Aphid Genomics Consortium (Brisson, J. A., member Development, Epigenetics & Methylation, Wing development, and JH-related Groups). 2010. Genome sequence of the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum. PLoS Biology 8:e1000313.
  • Brisson, J. A., Ishikawa, A., and Miura, T. 2010. Wing development genes of the pea aphid and differential gene expression between winged and unwinged morphs. Insect Mol. Biol. 19:63-73.
  • Walsh, T. K., Brisson, J. A., Robertson, H., Gordon, K., Jaubert-Possamai, S., Tagu, D., and Edwards, O. R. 2010. DNA methylation in the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum. Insect Mol. Biol. 19:215-228.
  • Brisson, J. A. Aphid wing dimorphisms: linking polyphenism and polymorphism. 2010. Invited article for Phil Trans. R Soc. London B issue on "From Polyphenism to Complex Metazoan Life Cycles" edited by A. Minelli, G. Fusco. 365:605-616.
  • Brisson, J. A., Nuzhdin, S. V, and D. L. Stern. 2009. Similar patterns of linkage disequilibrium and nucleotide diversity in native and introduced populations of the pea aphid. BMC Genetics 10:22.
  • Brisson, J. A., and S. V. Nuzhdin. 2008. Rarity of males in pea aphids results in their mutational decay. Science: 319:58.