The bendesky lab

Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, E3B, Columbia University

What we do

The diversity of animal behavior is fascinating, yet we know little about how behavior evolves.
We take genetic, genomic, molecular, and neurobiological approaches to understand the mechanisms underlying the natural variation and evolution of behavior.
Our work focuses mostly on exploratory and social behaviors – like pair bonding and parental care – in Peromyscus mice, and on aggression in Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta splendens).

© drawings of Betta sp. by Jordan Ahava


Bendesky Lab, May 2019

Andrés Bendesky

Principal Investigator

Andrés got his MD from UNAM, Mexico, his PhD from Rockefeller University, and was a Helen Hay Whitney Fellow at Harvard. He is interested in how complex behaviors are generated by the brain and how they evolve.

Kerel Francis

Lab Manager and Research Assistant

Kerel received his MSc in Neuroscience from the University of Bremen. Currently he is working in collaboration with the Kӧnig lab at the University of Zurich whose aim is to understand the evolution of social behavior in mice.

Young Mi Kwon

Research Assistant

Young Mi got her BS from Harvard and her masters from the University of Cambridge, UK. She is studying genetics in Betta fish.

Alec Palmiotti

Research Assistant

Alec received his BA from Oberlin College studying Neuroscience and Hispanic Studies. He is currently working on developing genetically modified Betta fish and helps coordinating the fish facility.

Amy Norovich


Amy received her PhD from Columbia University and her BSc from MIT. She is studying the neural basis of sexually dimorphic behaviors in Betta splendens.

Christoph Gebhardt


Chris received his PhD from KIT and was a postdoc in the lab of Filippo Del Bene. He aims to understand the neural basis of differences in parental care behavior in Peromyscus.

Pei-Yin Shih


Pei received her PhD from Caltech working in the lab of Paul Sternberg. She is studying the genetic basis of aggression in Betta splendens.

Jan-Niklas Runge


Jan received his PhD from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and his BSc and MSc from the University of Göttingen, Germany. He is studying the genomics of inbreeding and its consequences in a long-term field study of free-living wild house mice using novel whole-genome imputation approaches.

Jennifer Merritt


Jenny received her PhD from Emory University. She is studying the neural and genetic mechanisms of alternative life histories in closely related species of Peromyscus.

Joshua Greene


Josh received his MD from Cornell and a PhD from Rockefeller University. He is studying CNS regulation of the adrenomedullary system in Peromyscus.

Natalie Niepoth

PhD Student (E3B program)

Natalie got her BSc from Rice University and a masters in evolutionary biology from the University of Amsterdam. She is studying the genetic basis of anxiety and exploration in Peromyscus mice.

Claire Everett

PhD Student (NBB program)

Claire received her BA from Barnard College. She is studying the visual cues critical for evoking aggression in Betta splendens. She is also interested in the neural circuits underlying Betta visual processing of aggression-inducing stimuli.

Kimberly Hernandez

PhD Student (NBB program)

Kim is a PhD student in the lab jointly supervised by Andrés and Steven Siegelbaum.

Wyatt Toure

PhD Student (E3B program)

Wyatt received his B.Sc. from Concordia University and his M.Sc. from McGill University. He is interested in the evolution of molecular mechanisms underlying adaptive phenotypes.

Yuyang Zhu

Master student

Yuyang is a Statistics student at GSAS. He is extracting behavioral features and validating models on in Betta fish behavioral patterns.

Peter Lichtenthal


Peter is a post-bac in Columbia's E3B program. Peter works in breeding wild caught Betta fish, and assists Claire and Madison in their behavioral and genetic work.

Elaine Lee


Elaine is a student at Columbia College. She is interested in how aggression in Betta splendens manifests on the circuitry level and how aggression circuits differ between males and females.

Joseph Brew


Joseph is a student at Columbia College in the E3B program. He is interested in the behavioural and evolutionary impacts of climate change as well as understanding complex behavioural processes through the study of genetics.

Bliss Bagnato-Conlin


Bliss is an undergraduate Neuroscience and Behavior major at Columbia College. She is assisting Amy Norovich in her study of sexually dimorphic behaviors in Betta splendens.

Debbie Leung


Debbie is a student at Columbia College majoring in E3B and Computer Science. She is interested in studying the genetic mechanisms underlying the behavioural and phenotypic diversity in Betta splendens using molecular techniques and bioinformatics.

Julio Bendesky

Lab Mascot

Julio is a dachshund and really good at detecting and retrieving food (that belongs to others).

Lab Alumni

Madison Lichak

& Research Assistant

Madison received her BA from Barnard College and completed her senior thesis in the Bendesky lab.
Then she stayed in the lab to coordinate the Betta facility and was working to develop genetically modified Betta fish.

Magdalen Kwarteng


Magdalen was a student at Barnard College and studied visually evoked aggression in Betta fish in the Bendesky Lab.

Emily Lei


Emily was a student at Barnard College and studied, supervised by Natalie Niepoth, how the brain and periphery interact to shape exploratory behavior in Peromyscus mice.

Wenxuan Dan

Master student

Wenxuan was working with Christoph Gebhardt on Peromyscus animal tracking data and modeling of parental care behavior.

Yuqi Miao

Master student

Yuqi was a student at Columbia Mailman Public Health school. In the Bendesky Lab she was working with Claire Everett on developing statistical methods for modelling and analyzing Betta splendens aggressive behavior.

Hiroki Tomida

Master student (E3B program)

Hiroki was a Master student in the E3B program. He was studying the genetic basis of aggressive behavior in Betta fish in the Bendesky lab.


Genomic consequences of domestication of the Siamese fighting fish.
Kwon YM, Vranken N, Hoge C, Lichak MR, Francis KX, Camacho-Garcia J, Bista I, Wood J, McCarthy S, Chow W, Tan HH, Howe K, Bandara S, von Lintig J, Rüber L, Durbin R, Svardal H, Bendesky A
Sci Adv. 2022 Mar 11;8(10)

Media coverage
Annie Roth. The 1,000-Year Secret That Made Betta Fish Beautiful. New York Times. May 14, 2021.
Sarah Zhang. The Surprise Hiding in the DNA of Pet Fish. The Atlantic. May 14, 2021.
Christie Wilcox. My Daughter’s First Pet—the Next Big Model Organism? The Scientist. Jul 15, 2021.

Parent-offspring inference in inbred populations.
Runge JN, Koenig B, Lindholm AK, Bendesky A
bioRxiv 2021. doi: 10.1101/2021.11.23.469656

Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification Detection of SARS-CoV-2 and Myriad Other Applications.
Moore KJM, Cahill J, … Bendesky A, … Mason CE, The gLAMP Consortium
J Biomol Tech. 2021 Sep;32(3):228-275

WHotLAMP: A simple, inexpensive, and sensitive molecular test for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in saliva.
Ng D, Pinharanda A, Vogt MC… Bendesky A
PLoS One 2021 Sep 16.

How Natural Genetic Variation Shapes Behavior.
Niepoth N, Bendesky A
Annu Rev Genomics Hum Genet. 2020 Apr 13

Generation, Coordination, and Evolution of Neural Circuits for Vocal Communication
Kelley DB, Ballagh IH, Barkan CL, Bendesky A, Elliott TM, Evans BJ, Hall IC, Kwon YM, Kwong-Brown U, Leininger EC, Perez EC, Rhodes HJ, Villain A, Yamaguchi A, Zornik E
J Neurosci. 2020 Jan 2;40 (1) 22-36.

The genetic basis of parental care evolution in monogamous mice
Bendesky A, Kwon YM, Lassance J, Lewarch CL, Yao S, Peterson BK, He MX, Dulac C, Hoekstra HE
Nature. 2017 Apr 27;544(7651):434-9.

Scientific and media coverage
News and Views: Phelps SM. Animal behaviour: How to build a better dad. Nature. 2017;544:418–419.
Snyder-Mackler M, Tung J. Vasopressin and the Neurogenetics of Parental Care. Neuron. 2017;95:9-11
Hager R. The Genes That Make a Good Parent. Trends in Genetics. 2017;33:492-494.
Media Coverage: Carl Zimmer. Why Are Some Mice (and People) Monogamous? A Study Points to Genes. New York Times. April 19, 2017.
Andrea Marks. The Mouse Parent Trap. Scientific American. July 2017.

Long-range regulatory polymorphisms affecting a GABA receptor constitute a quantitative trait locus (QTL) for social behavior in Caenorhabditis elegans.
Bendesky A, Pitts J, Rockman MV, Chen WC, Tan MW, Kruglyak L, Bargmann CI
PLoS Genet. 2012;8(12):e1003157.

Genetic contributions to behavioural diversity at the gene-environment interface.
Bendesky A, Bargmann CI
Nat Rev Genet. 2011 Nov 8;12(12):809-20.

Catecholamine receptor polymorphisms affect decision-making in C. elegans.
Bendesky A, Tsunozaki M, Rockman MV, Kruglyak L, Bargmann CI
Nature. 2011 Apr 21;472(7343):313-8.

GFP Reconstitution Across Synaptic Partners (GRASP) defines cell contacts and synapses in living nervous systems.
Feinberg EH, Vanhoven MK, Bendesky A, Wang G, Fetter RD, Shen K, Bargmann CI
Neuron. 2008 Feb 7;57(3):353-63.


March 11: The lab's paper about genomic consequences of Betta fish domestication is finally out in Science Advances. Congratulations, everyone. :-)

February 1: Joseph received a prestigious Kellett Fellowship to pursue a MPhil in Computational Biology at Cambridge University, UK. Congratulations, Joseph. :-)


November 24: We published a new pre-print on biorxiv on how to infer Parent-offspring relationships in inbred populations.

September 1: Wyatt joins the lab as PhD student in the E3B program. Welcome, Wyatt!

June 28: Alec joins the lab as research assistant. Welcome, Alec!

April 30: The lab's first ever pre-print was uploaded on biorxiv. It is about the genomic consequences of Betta fish domestication.

March 15: Josh joins the lab as a postdoc. Welcome, Josh!

February 17: The new TWIN about the connection between the Microbiome and Neurodevelopment is out.


December 3: Jenny is selected as a Junior Fellow of the Simons Society of Fellows. Congratulations, Jenny!

October 1: Jenny joins the lab as postdoc. Welcome, Jenny!

August 1: Jan re-joins the lab as postdoc supported by a Early Postdoc.Mobility Fellowship of the Swiss National Science Foundation. Congratulations and welcome back, Jan!

April 18: The new TWIN Podcast is out, this time talking about Anosmia connected to Covid-19.

April 13: New review article published on how behavior is being shaped by genetic variation

April 1: Elaine was admitted to the Laidlaw Undergraduate Research Program to support her work in the lab during the summer. Congratulations, Elaine!

March 31: Kimberly received an Honorable Mention for the NSF GRFP. Congratulations, Kim!

January 9: Andrés again joins the TWIN Podcast covering ACBARs, virus-like capsids that transfer genetic information between neurons

January 2: Review article with Darcy Kelley on vocal communication in Xenopus frogs published


November 5: Andrés talks about work in the lab and about synaptic transmission and plasticity in the new Podcast "This Week In Neuroscience" (TWIN)

August 29: Magdalen and her work are featured on the Barnard College youtube channel.

August 16: Pei-Yin starts her postdoc in the lab, Hiroki (E3B MA Program) joins the lab

August 1: Kim (NB&B) starts her PhD in the lab

April 1: Christoph starts his postdoc in the lab.

March 31: Claire received an Honorable Mention for the NSF GRFP. Congratulations, Claire!

February 19: Andrés is named a 2019 Sloan Research Fellow in Neuroscience. News here

February 1: Young Mi joins the lab as Research Assistant

January: Amy is selected as a Junior Fellow of the Simons Society of Fellows. Congratulations, Amy!


August 20: Claire (NB&B) joins the lab as PhD student

July 1: Madison re-joins the lab as Research Assistant

May 15: Andrés is awarded a Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship Award in Neuroscience

April 4: Andrés is named a Searle Scholar. News here

March 19: Amy starts her postdoc in the lab

March 1: Emily joins the lab for her undergraduate thesis

January 15: Magdalen joins the lab as part of her senior neuroscience thesis project


September 1: Natalie (E3B) starts her PhD in the lab, Madison joins the lab for her undergraduate thesis

August 1: Lab opens


Andrés Bendesky
Jerome L. Greene Science Center
Columbia University
3227 Broadway, Room L3.051
New York, NY 10027