José Reyes-Tomassini

Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology

Office: SC 61

(319) 352-8742

More about José Reyes-Tomassini

Educational Background

B.S. University of Puerto Rico, 1998

M.S., University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, 2001

Ph.D., University of Maryland, 2009

I am interested in the quantification of animal behavior.  Specifically, I am interested in the behavior of marine fish grown for food or for ornamental purposes (aquaculture).  My research spans multiple disciplines including vertebrate physiology, neuroendocrinology, animal behavior and computer science.

Past Research Interest
Before Wartburg, I worked for the National Marine Fisheries (NOAA/NMFS) for several years.  I am a self-taught computer programmer and I have been very interested in applying computer science techniques to biological problems.  At NOAA I studied the feeding behavior of sablefish larva using computer vision to find potential feed attractants.  Computer vision allows computer programs to “see” the location of animals and to derive many path parameters.  I used computer vision to characterize the response of larval fish to the feed attractants.

Another of my contributions at NOAA was developing a computer program to study the large-scale movement of fish using a variety of innovative tools.  The program can be found at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center’s website (AquaTracker).  Developing such innovative ways to look at large data sets and quantifying behavior brings computer science and biology close together.  I plan to continue to work on newer versions of AquaTracker while at Wartburg.

Current Research
Transport of marine fish from near-shore production facilities to inland grow-out systems can be expensive because of the percentage of fish that die during transport.  Sedative compounds have been shown to be effective at suppressing transport stress.  Currently, I am interested in using computer vision to quantify the response of the marine clownfish to acute, chronic, or repeated exposure to naturally-derived sedatives.  As a physiologist I am also interested in knowing the effects of sedatives in the production of stress hormones (e.g. cortisol) and whether any of these compounds is toxic to the kidneys, liver or if these compounds have any effects in the immune system of the fish. 

Clownfish as a research model
The marine clownfish is easy to rear in captivity and large numbers of fish can be kept in a small space.  Not only is clownfish a good model saltwater fish species, but clownfish is also a model for studying sex change in fish.  Clownfish is a sex changer: when a female dies the male can change sex.  The movie Finding Nemo got it all wrong as Marlin would have changed sex and become Marilyn!!  Sex change in clownfish is influenced by the social environment.  A socially “stressful” environment can affect the outcome of sex change.  With the tools we will lay out to study the response to acute or chronic stress in clownfish, we could also study sex change.  Thus, the clownfish will be a very versatile animal model.  Sex change in itself is very interesting because it allows us to study the development of the gonad in an adult fish.  I am interested in looking at molecular markers of gonad development and how a stressful environment may affect the development of sex change.

Clown Fish

Sample Figures


Results of the analysis of the video of larval sablefish when exposed to an attractant (left) or water control (right).  Each colored line represents an individual track segment (path) of a fish larva.  Analysis of this data shows that fish larva swim more in a straight line when exposed to the attractant.

Movement of fish plotted on an innovative graph we created using AquaTracker.  Each vertical “lane” in the y-axis represents a single fish.   The x-axis is time after the fish were released.  The darker the marker, the farther away the fish is from the release site.  The RED arrow points to a fish that moved away quickly from the release site while the BLUE arrow points to a fish in another treatment that did not move too far from the release site.  This graph summarizes more than one hundred thousand different data points into a concise picture.  Thinking about different ways to represent data in a manner that conveys all the needed information is another way in which biologist can interact with computer scientist.  It is the next challenge for “big data” in biology.