Yehuda Ben-Shahar

Yehuda Ben-Shahar

Professor of Biology
PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

contact info:

mailing address:

  • Washington University
    CB 1137
    One Brookings Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63130-4899

Yehuda Ben-Shahar joined the biology department in 2008.

The Ben-Shahar lab uses behavioral, genetic, genomic, biochemical, and molecular approaches to decipher the genetic architectures that drive specific behaviors by using the powerful genetic tractability of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster.  Specifically, members of the Ben-Shahar lab investigate how the action of specific genes in distinct neuronal circuits give rise to behaviors such as feeding and mating decisions. The Lab also conducts research projects about the evolution and genetics of honey bee social behaviors at the Tyson Research Center, and on developing genetically-encoded tools for studying neural functions and behavior in non-Drosophila insects species such as the honey bee and the American grasshopper.

recent courses

Behavioral Genetics Laboratory

This course introduces students to fundamental concepts about how genes govern behavior by using the model system Drosophila melanogaster. Students learn modern and classic laboratory techniques including fly crossing, genetic screens, behavioral assays, microscopy, and electrophysiology. Specifically, we use the GAL4/UAS system to assess the role of microRNAs in a variety of fly behaviors. A primary goal of the course is to develop real-world research skills by having students design, propose, and execute a set of novel research questions. Statistical analysis and interpretation of student data are emphasized. To build a solid conceptual background, lectures are given once per week, and students read, analyze, and discuss primary research articles. Understanding is assessed through journal club reports and presentations, research reports, and a final presentation of experimental results. This course is designed for upper-level students who have taken Bio 2960 and Bio 2970.

    Genes, Brains, and Behavior (Biology 3422)

    Genetic studies of physiological systems underlying animal behavior, including the genetic basis for normal and abnormal behaviors in animals and humans. Topics include: history of behavioral genetics; the ongoing debate about “nature vs. nurture”; contributions of genetic model systems including the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, zebrafish, the mouse Mus musculus, and other animal models; molecular mechanisms underlying the evolution of behavioral phenotypes; the emerging role of epigenetics in regulating nervous-system functions and behavior; the use of genetic and genomic analyses in studies of human behavior and psychiatric disorders.

      Selected Publications

      Ben-Shahar Y, Thompson CK, Hartz SM, Smith BH and Robinson GE (2000) Differences in performance on a reversal learning test and division of labor in honey bee colonies. Animal Cognition 3:119-125.

      Hartz SM, Ben-Shahar Y and Tyler M. (2001) Logistic growth curve analysis in associative learning data. Animal Cognition4:185-189.

      Ben-Shahar Y and Robinson GE. (2001) Satiation differentially affects performance in a learning assay by nurse and forager honey bees. Journal of Comparative Physiology [A] 187:891-899.

      Ben-Shahar Y, Robichon A, Sokolowski MB and Robinson GE. (2002) Influence of gene action across different time scales on behavior. Science 296:741-744. ("Must read", Faculty of 1000; reported in the NY Times; Washington Post; Ha-Aretz; German Public Radio; CBC Radio, Canada; South African Public Radio; Genome News Network; Mutant of the Month, Nature Genetics, December, 2006)

      Robinson GE and Ben-Shahar Y. (2002) Social behavior and comparative genomics: new genes or new gene regulation? Genes Brain and Behavior 1:197-203.

      Ben-Shahar Y, Leung H-T, Pak WL, Sokolowski MB and Robinson GE. (2002) division of labor in honey bee colonies is influenced by cGMP-dependent changes in phototaxis. Journal of Experimental Biology 206:2507-2515.

      Ben-Shahar Y, Dudek N and Robinson GE. (2004) malvolio, manganese, and division of labor in honey bee colonies: deconstructing a complex phenotype. Journal of Experimental Biology 207: 3281-3288. (Cover)

      Fitzpatrick MJ, Ben-Shahar Y, Smid HM, Vet LEM, Robinson GE and Sokolowski MB. (2005) Candidate genes for behavioral ecology. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20:96-104.

      Ben-Shahar Y (2005) The foraging gene, behavioral plasticity, and honey bee division of labor. Journal of Comparative Physiology [A] 191:987-994.

      Whitfield CW, Ben-Shahar Y, Brillet C, Leoncini I, LeConte Y, Rodriguez-Zas S and Robinson GE. (2006) Genomic dissection of behavioral maturation in the honey bee. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103: 16068-16075.

      Williams KD, Busto M, Suster ML, So AK, Ben-Shahar Y, Leevers SJ, and Sokolowski MB. (2006) Natural variation in Drosophila melanogaster diapause due to the insulin-regulated PI-3 kinase. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103:15911-15915.

      Ben-Shahar Y, Nannapaneni K, Casavant TL, Scheetz TE and Welsh MJ. (2007) Eukaryotic operon-like transcription of functionally related genes in DrosophilaProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 222-227. (Must read, Faculty of 1000)

      Sun Y, Liu L, Ben-Shahar Y, Jacobs JS, Eberl DF and Welsh MJ. (2009) TRPA channels distinguish gravity sensing from hearing in Johnston’s organ. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106: 13606–13611. (“Recommended”, Faculty of 1000)

      Shah A*, Ben-Shahar Y*, Moninger TO, Kline JN and Welsh MJ. (2009) Motile Cilia of Human Airway Epithelia Are Chemosensory. Science 325:1131-1134. (Cover) *Equal contribution. (“Must read”, Faculty of 1000).

      Ben-Shahar Y, Lu B, Collier DM, Snyder PM, Schnizler M and Welsh MJ. (2010) The Drosophila Gene CheB42a Is a Novel Modifier of Deg/ENaC Channel Function. PLOS One 5(2): e9395.

      Ben-Shahar Y. (2011) Sensory functions for Degenerin/Epithelial sodium channels (DEG/ENaC). Advances in Genetics 76: 1-25.

      Lu B, LaMora A, Sun Y, Welsh MJ and Ben-Shahar Y. (2012) ppk23-dependent chemosensory functions contribute to courtship behavior in Drosophila melanogaster. PLoS Genetics 8(3): e1002587.

      Greenberg J*, Xia J, Zhang W, Thatcher S, Ament S, Newman T, Green P, Robinson GE and Ben-Shahar Y. (2012) Behavioral plasticity in honey bees is associated with major differences in brain microRNA transcriptome. Genes, Brain, and Behavior 6: 660-670. *Washington University undergraduate student.

      Zelle KM*, Lu B*, Pyfrom SC and Ben-Shahar Y. (2013) The genetic architecture of Degenerin/epithelial sodium channels in DrosophilaGenes, Genomes, Genetics (G3) 3: 441–450. *Equal contribution

      Nannapaneni K, Ben-Shahar Y, Keen HL, Welsh MJ, Casavant TL and Scheetz TE. (2013) Computational Identification of operon-like transcriptional loci in Eukaryotes. Computers in Biology and Medicine 43: 738–743

      Ben-Shahar Y (2013) Genes, Brains, and behavior. In Moore A (Section Ed.), Losos J (Project Ed), The Princeton Guide to Evolution (pp. 609-615). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

      Gu X and Ben-Shahar Y. (2013) Olfactory receptors in human airway epithelia. In Crasto C (Ed.), Olfactory Receptors: Methods and Protocols. 1003:161-169 . New York, NY: Humana Press.

      Gu X, Karp PH, Brody SL, Pierce RA, Welsh MJ, Holtzman MJ and Ben-Shahar Y (2014) Chemosensory functions for human pulmonary neuroendocrine cells. American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology 50:637-646.

      Lu B, Zelle KM, Selzer R, Hefetz A and Ben-Shahar Y (2014) Feminization of pheromone-sensing neurons affects mating decisions in Drosophila males. Biology Open 3:152-160.

      Zheng X, Valakh V, DiAntonio A and Ben-Shahar Y (2014) Natural antisense transcripts regulate the neuronal stress response and excitability. eLife 2014:3:e01849. 

      Ben-Shahar Y (2014) A piggyBac route to transgenic honeybees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111:8708-8709.

      Søvik E, LaMora A, Perry CJ, Barron AB and Ben-Shahar Y (2015) Negative impact of manganese on honey bee foraging. Biology Letters 11: 20140989.

      Søvik E, Bloch G and Ben-Shahar Y (2015) Function and evolution of microRNAs in eusocial Hymenoptera. Frontiers in Genetics 6:193.

      *McKinney RM, *Vernier C, and Ben-Shahar Y (2015) The neural basis for insect pheromonal communication. Current Opinions in Insect Science. 12:86-92. *Equal contribution. pdf

      Ben-Shahar Y (2015) How nervous systems generate behavior: lessons from insects. Current Opinions in Insect Science. 12:v-vii.