John VandenBrooks, PhD

Assistant Professor

     Midwestern University                                   
     Department of Physiology                             
     Agave 217-A2
     19555 N. 59th Ave.
     Glendale, AZ 85308

     Office Phone: (623)-572-3683 

      VandenBrooks Lab Website



Effects of oxygen on animal physiology, development and evolution: My main research interest is how varying amounts of atmospheric oxygen over geologic time influenced the physiology, development, and evolution of animals. This research combines modern rearing studies with an in depth look at the paleontological record over times of hypothesized changes in atmospheric oxygen levels.  To study this question, we have reared a variety of modern insects under varying oxygen concentrations including dragonflies, cockroaches, moths, beetles, and fruit flies. Currently we are rearing Madagascar hissing cockroaches, Libellulid dragonflies and Drosophila in the lab.  Our focus is on the effect of oxygen on body size, growth, fecundity, lifespan and the respiratory systems of these insects. 

Elucidating the role of Rhipicephalus sanguineus (the Brown dog tick) as a Vector for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) Transmission in Arizona: Rhipicephalus sanguineus (the brown dog tick) has become of recent interest to veterinary and public health in the state of Arizona due to its emerging implications as a vector for the rickettsial disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.  We are testing three possible hypotheses for why R. sanguineous is able to act as a vector for RMSF in Arizona.  First, we are using Scanning Electron Microscopy combined with gene sequencing of COX-1 and 12s/16s ribosomal RNA to test if the Arizona population is actually a distinct species of the greater species complex with a morphological or genetic feature that makes it more suitable as a vector for RMSF than other brown dog tick populations.  Second, we are using isolation and gene sequencing to test if the etiological agent Rickettsia rickettsii that causes RMSF is actually a different strain that can be carried by R. sanguineous.  Lastly, we are using downscaled climate models to examing the changing climate and habitat to test if it has become more favorable within Arizona allowing the population of sanguineous to act as a vector. This in combination with the high density of ticks in some locales could increase the incidence and prevalence of RMSF transmission.

Imaging insect tracheal systems and developing a proxy for paleo-oxygen levels: In another combination of paleontology and modern physiology, we have utilized a combination of phase contrast x-ray imaging at Argonne National Labs and confocal imaging at Midwestern to image the tracheal systems and mitochondrial investement of modern insects reared under varying oxygen levels and the fossilized tracheae of insects preserved in fossilized amber. We have shown an inverse relationship between rearing oxygen and tracheal volumes, tracheolar branching, and tracheole density in several groups of insects.  We have recently successfully used 3D tomography to image and measure the volume of the tracheal systems of insects in fossilized amber leading to a potential proxy for paleo-oxygen levels.

Oxygen and the insect fossil record:  We have carried out a series of surveys of the insect fossil record over times of hypothesized oxygen change including Protodonata, Paleodictyoptera, and Blattodea.  This work is doen in collaboration with the Field Museum, Smithsonian Museum, American Museum of Natural History, Peabody Museum, and the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. This work has focused on measuring body size and wing size in our three main groups of interest.  Through this work, we have demonstrated a strong correlation between atmospheric oxygen levels and both maximum and average insect body size. 

Selected Publications:

Shiehzadegan, S., Le Vinh Thuy, J., Szabla, N., Angilletta, M.J., VandenBrooks, J.M. 2017 More oxygen during development enhanced flight performance but not thermal tolerance of Drosophila melanogasterPLoS One 12(5):e0177827. (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0177827)

Le Vin Thuy, J., VandenBrooks, J.M., Angilletta, M.J. 2016 Developmental plasticity evolved according to specialist-generalist trade-offs in experimental populations of Drosophila melanogasterBiology Letters 12:20160379 (doi:10.1098/rsbl.2016.0379)

Bartholomew, N.R., Burdett, J.M., VandenBrooks, J.M., Quinlan, M.C., Call, G.B. 2015 Impaired climbing and flight behaviour in Drosophila melanogaster following carbon dioxide anaesthesia Scientific Reports 5:15298 (doi:10.1038/srep15298)

Smith C, Telemeco R.S., Angilletta Jr M.J., VandenBrooks J.M. 2015 Oxygen supply limits the heat tolerance of lizard embryos. Biology Letters 11: 20150113. (doi:10.1098/rsbl.2015.0113)

Farzin, M., Albert, T., Pierce, N., VandenBrooks, J.M., Dodge, T.,  Harrison, J.F. 2014 Acute and chronic effects of atmospheric oxygen on the feeding behavior of Drosophila melanogaster larvae.  Journal of Insect Physiology 68:23-29. (doi:10.1016/j.jinsphys.2014.06.017)

Harrison, J.F., Cease, A.J., VandenBrooks, J.M., Albert, T., Davdiowitz, G. 2013 Caterpillars selected for large body size and short development time are more susceptible to oxygen-related stress. Ecology and Evolution 3(3):1305-1316. (doi: 10.1002/ece3.551)  

Harrison, J.F., Waters, J.S., Cease, A.J., VandenBrooks, J.M., Callier, V., Klok, C.J., Shaffer, K., Socha, J.J. 2013 How locusts breathe. Physiology 28(1):18-27. (doi: 10.​1152/​physiol.​00043.​2012)

VandenBrooks, J.M., Munoz, E.E., Weed, M.D., Ford, C.F., Harrison, J.F. 2012 Impacts of paleo-oxygen levels on the size, development, reproduction, and tracheal systems of Blatella germanica.   Evolutionary Biology 39(1): 83-93. (doi: 10.1007/s11692-011-9138-3)

Harrison, J.F., Kaiser, A., VandenBrooks, J.M. 2010  Atmospheric oxygen level and the evolution of insect body size. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 277(1690): 1937-1946. (doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0001)

Sato, H., Berry, C.W., Peeri, Y., Baghoomian, E., Casey, B.E., Lavella, G., VandenBrooks, J.M., Harrison, J.F. and Maharbiz, M.M. 2009  Remote radio control of insect flight. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience. 3:24. (doi:10.3389/neuro.07.024.2009)

Bradley, T.J., Briscoe, A.D., Brady, S.G. Contreras, H. Danforth, B. Dudley, R., Grimaldi, D. Harrison, J.F., Kaiser, A. Merlin, C. Reppert, S.M. VandenBrooks, J.M. Yanoviak, S.M. 2009  Episodes in insect evolution. Integrative and Comparative Biology 49:590-606. (doi: 10.1093/icb/icp043)

Harrison, J.F., Kaiser, A., VandenBrooks, J.M.  2008 Mysteries of oxygen and insect size.  "Molecules to migration: The pressures of life" (Ed S. Morris & A. Vosloo). Medimond Publishing Co, Bologna, Italy. p. 293-302.           

Vargas, A.O., Kohlsdorf, T., Fallon, J.F., VandenBrooks, J.M., Wagner, G.P. 2008 The Evolution of HoxD-11 Expression in the Bird Wing: Insights from Alligator Mississippiensis. PLoS One 3(10): e3325. (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003325)            

Sato, H.  Berry, C.W., Casey, B.E., Lavella, G., Yao, Y., VandenBrooks, J.M., Mahabiz, M.M. 2008 A cyborg beetle: insect flight control through an implantable, tetherless microsystem, Proc. MEMS 2008  164-167. (doi: 10.1109/MEMSYS.2008.4443618)            

Berner, Robert A., VandenBrooks, John M., Ward, Peter D. 2007 Oxygen and Evolution Science 316(5824):557-558. (doi: 10.1126/science.1140273)


PhD   Geology and Geophysics     Yale University    2007
MPhil     Geology and Geophysics     Yale University    2004
BS Chem   Chemistry University of Michigan 2001