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Image shows Lake Malawi cichlids that are just 13 days old. The fish are still attached to their yolk sacs. (Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech)

Cichlid fishes from Lake Malawi offer the unprecedented opportunity to study the relationship between genotype and phenotype in wild vertebrates. Over the past ten years, with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, NSF and NIH, we’ve pioneered genomic and molecular biology approaches in this natural system to solve problems difficult to address in traditional model organisms. Major projects include (i) tooth and taste bud patterning and regeneration; (ii) genomics of complex social behavior; and (iii) developmental diversification of the cranial neural crest, placodal plate and neural plate. We analyze and manipulate genomes and development in multiple species of Malawi cichlids, spanning divergence in embryonic/adult phenotypes and behavior – and translate our findings to zebrafish and mouse models.