News from the Stein Lab

Arthropod Genome Symposium

posted Jun 9, 2018, 8:13 PM by Wolfgang Stein

We spent two days at the Arthropod Genome Symposium at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. The photo shows PI Wolfgang Stein, MS students Casey Gahrs and Abbi Benson, and Julian Gutekunst, PhD in Frank Lyko's lab, our collaborator at the German Cancer Research Center.

Teaching and Travel Awards

posted Apr 28, 2018, 8:10 PM by Wolfgang Stein

Congrats to ALL current student lab members for winning teaching and travel awards at this years Phi Sigma Spring Banquet!

Chris Goldsmith won the outstanding PhD student teaching award.
Abbi Benson won the outstanding MS student teaching award. Only one award is given out each year in these categories.

Maggie DeMaegd, Casey Gahrs and Abbi Benson won Rilett travel fellowships to support their presentations at the International Society for Neuroethology meeting, the Society for Neuroscience meeting, and the Genes, Brain & Behavior meeting.

A special shout-out to Chance Bainbridge from the Vidal-Gadea lab for winning the outstanding PhD student award of the School of Biological Sciences. Only one awards is given out per year. Truly outstanding!

2018 Phi Sigma Research Symposium

posted Apr 26, 2018, 9:17 PM by Wolfgang Stein

The lab presented two posters and one oral seminar at this year's Phi Sigma Research Symposium. Casey Gahrs and Abbi Benson presented their posters on marbled crayfish molecular neuroscience, and Margaret DeMaegd presented a seminar on modulation of sensory neuron activity.

Congrats to Margaret for winning second place in the oral seminar competition!


STEM Outstanding College Student award

posted Apr 13, 2018, 8:54 PM by Wolfgang Stein

Congratulations, Maggie!

Margaret DeMaegd, doctoral student in the our lab, won the 2018 McLean County STEM Outstanding College Student award for her research and outreach activities in Neuroscience. Margaret also presented a poster at the STEM gala.

Andrés Vidal-Gadea, Assistant Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, was awarded the 2018 McLean County Outstanding STEM Professional award, recognizing his student mentoring and outreach activities. Congrats Andrés!

Crustacean parade at the ISU child care center

posted Apr 7, 2018, 1:00 PM by Wolfgang Stein   [ updated Apr 7, 2018, 3:24 PM ]

Our lab went to Illinois State University child care last week and introduced our lab animals to the kids. MS students Casey Gahrs, Abbi Benson and PhD student Margaret DeMaegd told crayfish and crab stories and answered questions.
Our favorites were: "Do crabs have tails?", "Do crayfish die if they live on land?" and of course "Do you dress them up in clothes? " :-)
We had a blast and hope we got the kids excited about research.

Poster presentations at the University Research Symposium

posted Apr 7, 2018, 12:33 PM by Wolfgang Stein   [ updated Apr 7, 2018, 12:34 PM ]

Our lab presented three posters at the local University Research Symposium. The photo below shows MS students Casey Gährs, Abbi Benson, PhD student Margaret DeMaegd and PI Wolfgang Stein next to their posters.
#Redbirscholar #ISUGradschool

Nature Eco Evo paper out

posted Feb 5, 2018, 8:39 PM by Wolfgang Stein   [ updated Feb 9, 2018, 5:34 PM ]

Our marbled crayfish genome paper is out. Congrats to our collaborators for making this such a nice story!

In this study we sequenced the genome of a parthenogenetic species of crayfish, called the marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis). Parthenogenetic means that these animals reproduce asexually - the whole species is female. More interestingly, the creation of the species happened only about 25 - 30 years ago. It is the youngest parthenogenic species known.
While we do not know how it exactly happened, but at that time, a slough crayfish (Procambarus fallax) couple mated and something went wrong. One (and only one) of their daughters inherited an additional set of chromosomes. That daughter could no longer reproduce normally, but instead was able to generate live offspring without males.
Slough crayfish live in Georgia, but that one special animal was introduced to German pet trade in the mid nineties. Our study shows that all worldwide existing animals of that species stem from that one animal, and was likely distributed worldwide by pet trade.
We sequenced several individuals of this species (one of them here at Illinois State University, several others by or collaborators in Germany). This is the first decapod crustacean to have its genome and transcriptome sequenced and published. Decapod crustaceans are lobsters, crabs, and crayfish. Their genome is larger than the human genome, and has about the same number of genes. Surprisingly, we find that there is very little genetic variability - these animals are all clones of one another. Once a mother lays an egg that egg is a perfect clone of the mother. One part of the study was to track how this species expands, and whether its genome adapts to differences in the environment as it does so. That does not seem to be the case.
Nevertheless, these animals are extremely invasive and successful in the wild. In the example on Madagascar we studied, they spread in less than 10 years from 400 square miles to 40,000 square miles - an increase by 100 fold. That is from about the size of half of Rhode Island to almost the size of Ohio in 10 years. This is very surprising because we usually think of competitive species being genetically rather diverse to be able to cope with changes in the environment. One reason could be their quick reproduction rate of several hundred offspring in about 3 months.

What are our own interests in this species? I am a Neuroscientist and interested in how nervous systems deal with environmental influences. One of the hypotheses that is out there is that species maintain a certain level of diversity in their brain cells and circuits to - as a species - respond best to changes in the environment such as for example temperature. The marbled crayfish seems to defy that idea, which makes it a perfect study organism.
The nervous system of decapod crustaceans has several advantages for studying the physiology of neurons, including the large size and small number of nerve cells. Nevertheless, findings can be generalized and are applicable also for larger animals, such as mammals. Having the genome and transcriptome of the marbled crayfish available will now also allow us to create transgenic animals to manipulate gene expression in the nervous system of this species, adding another exciting technique for studying neurons and their physiology.

Here is my interview with Ira Flatow, the host of Science Friday:
Here is what the New York Times has to say about the paper:

Gutekunst, J.,  Andriantsoa, R., Falckenhayn, C., Hanna, K., Stein, W., Rasamy J. & Lyko, F (2018) Clonal genome evolution and rapid invasive spread of the marbled crayfish. Nature Ecology & Evolution (2018)     doi:10.1038/s41559-018-0467-9

Travelling from around the world to tour our lab!

posted Jan 26, 2018, 4:32 PM by Wolfgang Stein

Science knows no borders. We hosted a lab tour for a group of Chinese students from Southwest University yesterday. We had a blast. Come again!

Recruiting new graduate students

posted Jan 18, 2018, 7:09 PM by Wolfgang Stein

The Stein lab is looking for new graduate students to join our lab. We are particularly interested in students with a keen interest in using neurophysiology and optical imaging to study sensory processing, motor control and robustness of neural activity in a well-characterized invertebrate system.
Students should contact Dr. Stein at and send a CV and short statement of interest.

Society for Neuroscience meeting

posted Nov 24, 2017, 2:13 PM by Wolfgang Stein

We had four posters at this year's annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, three of which were related to our current NSF-funded project.
It was great to see that all posters were busy and had many visitors.

Our lab also organized the Neuroethology/Inverterbrate Neuroscience Social, which was (again) a great success. We had more than 100 attendants, including students, postdocs and faculty.
Here are some impressions:

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