Catching Up with Jason Gallant ’05

Alumnus’s Research on Electric Fish Began in a Lab at Trinity

HARTFORD, CT, September 9, 2014 - Jason Gallant ’05, today an assistant professor of zoology at Michigan State University, made some news earlier this year when his research on the genetics of electric fish was published in the prestigious journal Science. His discovery that different groups of electric fish evolved their electric organs through the same set of genes was picked up by several media outlets, including National Public Radio.

We caught up with Jason to ask him about his research, his time at Trinity, and more.

TRINITY COLLEGE: Why were you drawn to researching electric fish?

JASON GALLANT: Well, it all started at Trinity! I took an Animal Communication course with Kent Dunlap my first semester at Trinity, who also studies electric fish. Soon after, I was working in his lab and forming these questions that I am still trying to answer!

TC: What most interests you about your research?

JG: My mother is a nurse and my father is a mechanic. I like to think of myself as a perfect intellectual hybrid between the two— I love to understand how the little parts of biology come together to make a functioning system, it just so happens that it is biological and not mechanical. In biology, so many things seem ‘messy' and ‘imperfect’, but this is only because we don’t fully understand the history and process behind how these traits and processes evolved. Shedding light on these processes is deeply satisfying to me. I also get to work with a lot of really smart, fun people who are also into this kind of stuff. And the travel is fantastic!

TC: What do you hope to accomplish through your study?

JG: Ultimately, we hope to understand how electric organs have evolved in all six groups of electric fish, and we have some good ideas in four. We are working with the other groups currently. More broadly, we are hoping to apply some of these principles to understand how other types of traits, particularly complex ones, may have evolved multiple times in the history of life. Finally, it may be possible one day to apply what we’ve learned in electric fish to build biological batteries to power biomedical devices that act as pacemakers for heart arrhythmias, control bladder disorders, or even power or control artificial limbs.

TC: How did your time at Trinity affect your career path?

JG: I’m still in college, still studying electric fish!  I’d say it was a pretty profound effect!

TC: What advice would you give to Trinity students pursuing a career in biology?

JG: Get into the lab as soon as you possibly can. Find good mentors and start forming your own questions. Biology has a long tradition of mentorship, and it is specifically these relationships that make it possible for you to get into the field. Those relationships are really made in the laboratory.