Hopi E. Hoekstra

Harvard University

Election Year: 2016
Primary Section: 27, Evolutionary Biology
Secondary Section: 26, Genetics
Membership Type: Member


Hoekstra is an evolutionary geneticist, who studies the molecular basis of adaptation in wild mice. Her first major work focused on the genetic basis of cryptic coloration in beach mice, but her lab has extended this approach to study the genetic and neural basis of natural behaviors. Hoekstra was born and raised in California’s Bay Area. She received her B.A. with Highest Honors in Integrative Biology at University of California Berkeley in 1994. She then earned her PhD in Zoology as a Howard Hughes Predoctoral Fellow at the University of Washington in 2000. She next became a NIH NRSA Fellow at the University of Arizona, before starting as an Assistant Professor at University of California, San Diego in 2003. Three years later, she was recruited to Harvard as a John L. Loeb Associate Professor and Curator of Mammals in the Museum of Comparative Zoology. In 2013, she became Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. Hoekstra has been awarded the Ernst Mayr Prize from the Society for Systematic Biologists, the Young Investigator Award from the American Society of Naturalists, an Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young Investigator Award and most recently the Richard Lounsbery Medal from the National Academy of Sciences. In 2016, she was elected into the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Hopi Hoekstra’s laboratory is interested in the genetic basis of evolutionary change. To this end, she has pioneered the use of wild rodents, primarily deer mice (genus Peromyscus), to study the molecular changes contributing to variation in a range of traits – from morphology to reproduction to behavior. Her early work focused on identifying mutations that give rise to cryptic coloration in mice that have repeatedly colonized novel habitat. This work became a textbook example of rapid adaptation, experimentally testing the adaptive value of camouflaging color to identifying mutations and developmental mechanisms responsible for color variation. She then extended this work to explore the mechanisms driving more complex color patterns, like rodent stripes. Building on her work in pigmentation biology, her laboratory also has explored the genetic basis of additional ecologically relevant phenotypes, including reproductive traits, such as sperm morphology and performance, driven by sexual selection. Finally, in recent years, her group has identified genes that affect behavior, and has used those genes to uncover the neurobiological and evolutional mechanisms driving behavioral evolution. Her research spans the fields of ecology, evolution, behavior, genetics, genomics, development and neurobiology, and is typified by its integrative nature – working in both the lab and field to make connections between genotype, phenotype and fitness.

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