Christopher Balakrishnan

Associate Professor

Howell N211

Balakrishnan Lab


  • Ph.D., Biology, Boston University, 2005
  • B.A., Biology, University of Pennsylvania, 1997

Research Interests

Research in the Balakrishnan Lab is aimed at understanding how genes and the environment interact to generate biodiversity. By combining a historical perspective with functional and comparative genomics, we seek to uncover both the genomic basis of evolutionary adaptation and the ecological and demographic processes responsible for population divergence. Our work revolves around three central research themes:

Speciation Biology: We are interested in understanding both ecological and genomic aspects of the speciation process using (mostly) birds as a model system. We’ve been using the zebra finch as an avian model for mechanistic speciation studies, such as those examine regulatory divergence during speciation. We also study speciation in the wild. Indigobirds, one of our study systems, represent a remarkable case of sympatric speciation and the evolution of morphological mimicry.

Genes, Brains & Behavior: The zebra finch has long been an important system for the study of behavior, in particular, the neural and molecular basis of learned vocal communication. We take a comparative approach to place these studies of the zebra finch in an evolutionary context. Our studies of brood parasitic birds, including the indigobirds mentioned above, are aimed at understanding the mechanisms underlying variation in song learning and other aspects of social behavior.

Comparative & Functional Genomics: We use comparative genomic approaches to study the evolution of avian (and other) genomes. We have been involved in multiple avian genome sequencing projects including that of the zebra finch and the recently published white-throated sparrow. We use these genomes to examine aspects of molecular evolution, avian immune function and a variety of other aspects of avian biology.


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