Study: Different species share a “genetic toolkit” for behavioral traits

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The house mouse, stickleback fish and honey bee appear to have little in common, but at the genetic level these creatures respond in strikingly similar ways to danger, researchers report. When any of these animals confronts an intruder, the researchers found, many of the same genes and brain gene networks gear up or down in response.

This discovery, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that distantly related organisms share some key genetic mechanisms that help them respond to threats, said University of Illinois cell and developmental biology professor Lisa Stubbs, who led the research with animal biology professor Alison Bell and entomology professor and Institute for Genomic Biology director Gene Robinson. Bell and Stubbs also are IGB faculty.

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Chris Seward

Chris Seward

Graduate Student, CDB


Current Project

Chris is primarily involved in the Simons Project, which is working to identify the molecular and genomic basis of social behavior.  He is focused on using ChIP-Seq to reveal the genetic regulatory mechanisms essential for social behavior in several species.  He is also working on developing bioinformatic pipelines to integrate diverse ChIP-seq and RNASeq data from this project in order to compare cross-species experimental data.

Past Projects

  • Patterns of variation in archaeal genomes from geothermal environments – Whitaker Lab, UIUC
  • Identifying a Role for Vibrio cholerae T3SS Effector VopX – Dziejman Lab, URMC

Outside the Lab

Chris grew up in Boston, MA and went to college in Rochester, NY.  He enjoys travelling, photography, sailing, skiing, weight training, driving, movies, and tinkering with new technology.  Check out his photography on Flickr.


  1. Shpigler, Hagai; Saul, Michael; Murdoch, Emma; Corona, Frida; Cash-Ahmed, Amy; Seward, Christopher; Chandrasekaran, Sriram; Stubbs, Lisa; Robinson, Gene. Honey bee neurogenomic responses to affiliative and agonistic social interactions, Genes, Brains and Behavior 2018.  doi:10.1111/gbb.12509
  2. Michael Saul*, Charles Blatti, Wei Yang, Syed Abbas Bukhari, Hagai Y. Shpigler, Joseph M. Troy, Chris Seward, Lisa Stubbs, Gene E. Robinson, Sihai Dave Zhao* and Saurabh Sinha*. Cross-species systems analysis of evolutionary toolkits of neurogenomic response to social challenge, Genes, Brains and Behavior 2018. doi:10.1111/gbb.12502
  3. Abbas Bukhari, Michael Saul, Chris Seward, Dave Zhao, Sriram Chandrasekaran, Lisa Stubbs, Alison M. Bell. Temporal Dynamics of Neurogenomic Plasticity in Response to Social Interactions in Male Sticklebacks, PLOS Genetics 2017. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1006840
  4. Rika Anderson, Angela Kouris, Chris Seward, Kate Campbell, and Rachel Whitaker. Structured populations of Sulfolobus acidocaldarius with susceptibility to mobile genetic elements, Genome Biology and Evolution 2017. doi:10.1093/gbe/evx104
  5. Chris Seward*, Michael Saul*, Saurabh Sinha, and Lisa Stubbs, et al. Transcriptional regulatory dynamics set the stage for a coordinated metabolic and neural response to social threat in mice, Genome Research 2017. doi:10.1111/gbb.12379
  6. Younguk Sun, Huimin Zhang, Majid Kazemian, Joseph M Troy, Chris Seward, Xiaochen Lu, Lisa Stubbs. ZSCAN5B and primate-specific paralogs bind RNA polymerase III genes and extra-TFIIIC (ETC) sites to modulate mitotic progression, Oncotarget 2017. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.12508
  7. Hagai Shpigler, Michael Saul, Emma Murdoch, Amy Cash‐Ahmed, Chris Seward, Saurabh Sinha, Lisa J Stubbs, Gene E Robinson, et al. Behavioral, transcriptomic and epigenetic responses to social challenge in honey bees, Genes, Brains and Behavior 2017. doi:10.1111/gbb.12379
  8. Chris Seward*, Huimin Zhang*, Zuowei Wu, Huiyan Ye, Youjun Feng. Genomic insights into the ESBL and MCR-1-producing ST648 Escherichia, Science Bulletin 2016. doi:10.1007/s11434-016-1086-y
  9. Kelly Miller, Madeline Sofia, Jacob Weaver, Chris Seward, and Michelle Dziejman.  Regulation by ToxR-like proteins converges on vttRB expression to control T3SS-dependent Caco2-BBE cytotoxicity in V. cholerae, Journal of Bacteriology, 2016. doi:10.1128/JB.00130-16
  10. Christopher H. Seward, Alexander Manzella, Ashfaqul Alam, J. Scott Butler and Michelle Dziejman. Using S. cerevisiae as a Model System to Investigate V. cholerae VopX-Host Cell Protein Interactions and Phenotypes, Toxins 2015. doi:10.3390/toxins7104099

Email Chris

seward2 [at] illinois [dot] edu

Joe Troy

Joe Troy, Bioinformatics


  • UIUC Informatics Ph.D. program 2012-Present
  • North Central College, Naperville Computer Science M.S., 2000-2005
  • UIUC Finance B.S., 1977-1981

Work Experience

  • Web Applications Developer and Architect, UIUC Library 2018 to Present
  • Graduate Research Assistant, UIUC 2013 to Present
  • Data Transformation and Database Specialist, UIUC 2017-2018
  • Teaching Assistant, UIUC 2017
  • Visiting Program Manager, UIUC Library 2012-2014
  • Senior Software Development Analyst, The Joint Commission 2005-2013
  • Distribution Systems Team Leader, NAVTEQ 2004-2005
  • Software Engineer, NAVTEQ 1999-2004
  • Adjunct Lecturer, EECS department, University of Illinois at Chicago 1999-1999
  • Software Development Analyst, The Joint Commission 1992-1999
  • Programmer Analyst, Richardson Electronics, LTD. 1985-1992
  • Computer Coordinator, Commercial Law League of America 1984-1985
  • Computer Programmer, Law Data Centre 1983-1984


As a graduate student pursuing a PhD in informatics I am working in the lab of Dr. Lisa Stubbs, Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology. Presently I am exploring computation methods to identify enhancer / promoter interactions during transcription.  Other projects include searching for new genes by scanning genomes for motifs or by analyzing gene expression data.

Previously I worked on a bioinformatics project to identify interactions between Zinc Finger Protein 558 (ZNF558) and Long Terminal Repeat (LTR) elements in human DNA.  Zinc Finger Protein 558 belongs to the Zinc Finger family of Transcription Factors that bind to DNA thus regulating the expression of DNA.  Through out history many LTRs have been introduced into the human genome via retroviruses.  Of interest is the evolutionary history of Zinc Finger Proteins compared to the evolutionary history of the LTRs they bind to.


Email Joe

Stubbs Lab Bioinformatics Presentations: