Christopher N. Balakrishnan

Title: Assistant Professor
Area of Study: Evolutionary and Behavioral Genomics
Phone: (252) 328-2910
Fax: (252) 328-4178
Website: Balakrishnan Lab Website
Office: N212B Howell Science Complex
Address: East Carolina University
Department of Biology
N212B Howell Science Complex
Mailstop 551
Greenville, NC 27858


Ph.D.: Biology, Boston University, 2005

B.A.: Biology, University of Pennsylvania 1997

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Research Interests:

Research in the Balakrishnan Lab is aimed at understanding how genes and the environment interact to generate biodiversity. By combining a historical perspective with functional and comparative genomics, we seek to uncover both the genomic basis of evolutionary adaptation and the ecological and demographic processes responsible for population divergence. Our work revolves around three central research themes:

Speciation Biology: We are interested in understanding both ecological and genomic aspects of the speciation process using (mostly) birds as a model system. We’ve been using the zebra finch as an avian model for mechanistic speciation studies, such as those examine regulatory divergence during speciation. We also study speciation in the wild. Indigobirds, one of our study systems, represent a remarkable case of sympatric speciation and the evolution of morphological mimicry.

Genes, Brains & Behavior: The zebra finch has long been an important system for the study of behavior, in particular, the neural and molecular basis of learned vocal communication. We take a comparative approach to place these studies of the zebra finch in an evolutionary context. Our studies of brood parasitic birds, including the indigobirds mentioned above, are aimed at understanding the mechanisms underlying variation in song learning and other aspects of social behavior.

Comparative & Functional Genomics: We use comparative genomic approaches to study the evolution of avian (and other) genomes. We have been involved in multiple avian genome sequencing projects including that of the zebra finch and the recently published white-throated sparrow. We use these genomes to examine aspects of molecular evolution, avian immune function and a variety of other aspects of avian biology.

Selected Publications:

Davidson, J.D. & C.N. Balakrishnan. 2016. Gene regulatory divergence during speciation in a songbird. G3: Genes, Genomes & Genetics. In press

Hebets, E.A., A.B. Barron, C.N. Balakrishnan, M.E. Hauber, P.H. Mason & K.L. Hoke. 2016. A systems approach to animal signaling. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283(1826): 20152889.

Tuttle, E.A., A.O. Bergland, M.S. Brewer, D.J. Newhouse, Z.C. Cheviron, M. Stager. W.C. Warren, R. Gonser, C.N. Balakrishnan. 2016. Divergence and degradation of a sex chromosome-like supergene. Current Biology 26(3):344-350.

Newhouse, D.J. & C.N. Balakrishnan. High MHC diversity despite bottlenecks in wild and domesticated zebra finches. BMC Evolutionary Biology 15:256.

Singhal, S. E.M. Leffler, K. Sannareddy, I. Turner, O. Venn, D.M. Hooper, A.I. Strand, Q. Li, B. Raney, C.N. Balakrishnan, S.C. Griffith, G. McVean, M. Przeworski. Stable recombination hotspots in birds. Science 350: 928-932.

Lansverk, A.L., J.B. Dongmo, J.C. Schuetz & C.N. Balakrishnan. 2015.Parasitism of the black-crowned waxbill Estrilda nonnula by pin-tailed whydahs Vidua macroura: implications for coevolution. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 127(4):733-739.

Balakrishnan, C.N., M. Mukai, R.A. Gonser, J.C. Wingfield, S.E. London, E.M. Tuttle & D.F. Clayton. 2014. Brain transcriptome sequencing and assembly of three songbird model systems for the study of social behavior. PeerJ: e396

Balakrishnan, C.N., R. Ekblom, R. Godinez, M. Volker, H. Kotkiewicz, H. Westerdahl, D. Burt, T. Graves, D. Griffin, W. Warren and S.V. Edwards. 2010. Gene duplication and fragmentation of the songbird major histocompatibility complex (MHC). BMC Biology 8: 29.

Warren et al. 2010 (C.N Balakrishnan; author 20 of 84). The genome of a songbird. Nature 464: 757-762.

Balakrishnan, C.N. & S.V. Edwards. 2009. Nucleotide variation, linkage disequilibrium and founder-facilitated speciation in wild populations of the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata). Genetics 181: 645-660.

Balakrishnan, C.N., K.M. Sefc & M.D. Sorenson. 2009. Incomplete reproductive isolation following host shift in brood parasitic indigobirds. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B 276: 219-228.

All publications on Google Scholar

All publications on Research Gate

Courses Taught:

BIOL 3620 Biological Evolution

BIOL 4240/7240 Genome Evolution

BIOL 6220 Advances in Ecology

BIOL 6992/6993 Next Generation Sequencing Techniques and Analysis

Laboratory Personnel:

Matt Louder
Postdoctoral Fellow

Allison Lansverk,
Ph.D. Student


Daniel Newhouse, 
Ph.D. Student

Dustin Foote
Dustin Foote
Masters Student

Julia Horates, 
Undergraduate Student


Greg Myers, 
Undergraduate Student