Joshua Shaevitz

Professor of Physics and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics
Director, Graduate Program in Quantitative and Computational Biology
Office Phone
150 Carl C. Icahn Laboratory

Research Focus

Physical and computational methods in behavior and neuroscience

I am interested in how life emerges from collections of molecules, cells, and organisms; asking how bacterial cells grow, divide, and move; how collections of cells form patterns; and how and why discrete animal behaviors are generated by the brain. To answer these questions we combine physics-style experiments, advanced data analysis techniques, and theoretical modeling, and use tools from optics, computer vision, machine learning, and more.

My group focuses primarily on two scales, the cellular and the organismal. On the cellular scale we ask how bacteria deal with a physical world, how they grow into the correct shape, how they sense their environments, and how they move in large groups to generate beautiful dynamical patterns. On the organismal scale, we study the behaviors of animals, asking in the worm, fly, fish, and mouse how behavioral patterns are performed and how they are controlled by the brain.

Despite the recent explosion in our ability to characterize the basic molecular, cellular and genetic components of organisms, our understanding of their behaviors has advanced at a much slower pace. Underlying this discrepancy has been our inability to define what behaviors are and how they relate to an organism’s interactions with the world. We have developed technology to track the postures of animals over time (Pereira 2019), map the behavioral landscape of an animal, and find the essential building blocks of behavior using state-of-the-art imaging and machine learning techniques. Using this platform we are currently investigating the temporal pattern of behaviors (Berman 2014, 2016), neuronal control of stereotyped outputs (Cande 2018), how sensory inputs are translated into behavioral outputs by the brain and neural-muscular systems (Nguyen PNAS 2016, 2017), and how interactions between individuals are used during social behaviors in multiple model neural and genetic model systems (Wang 2016, Klibaite 2017). We have two exciting collaborative projects in PNI on closed-loop behavioral interactions between courting individuals (with Murthy, Bialek, and Pillow), and neural mechanisms in the cerebellum involved in flexible and social behavior (with Wang and Pillow).

Related Links