Examining Sleep Plasticity 

Johanna Kowalko

by Lynda F. Rysavy | Thursday, Aug 29, 2019

While sleep is almost universal across the animal kingdom, sleep architecture and amount vary drastically between species. Further, animals alter how much they sleep in response to their environments and food availability. 

  Florida Atlantic University  researcher and collaborators received a three-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant totaling $426,639 to examine the evolution of sleep plasticity in Mexican cavefish across variable environments and to engage the community in scientific research. 

 "By quantifying sleep in cavefish in their natural habitats across seasons, we will connect naturally occurring, variable environmental conditions to the amount animals sleep," said  Johanna Kowalko , Ph.D., co-principal investigator and an assistant professor of biology in FAU's Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College. "Sleep plasticity will also be examined in crosses derived from cavefish and their surface fish counterparts, which will allow for examination of the genetic basis of plasticity."

These studies will provide unprecedented insight into how and why sleep plasticity has evolved, the impacts of environmental variables on sleep, and genetic architecture underlying sleep plasticity. The captivating cavefish system will be leveraged to engage students through the development of a research-intensive course for undergraduates and a summer research mentoring program for high school students. Researchers will also collaborate with FAU's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Jupiter to provide research engagement opportunities for lifelong learners.   

 Collaborators on this NSF award include Kowlko,  Suzanne McGaugh , Ph.D., an assistant professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior at the University of Minnesota and co-principal investigator, and  Nicolas Rohner , Ph.D., an assistant investigator at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research.