Research

How to build a brain

I am interested in how to build a brain. Fortunately, the instructions on building a brain are written molecularly in the genome, and so my research focuses on deciphering these instructions by uncovering the different molecules and strategies that neurons in the brain use to connect with each other. This research will help us understand how brains essentially self-assemble and function as soon as an animal is born, such as in innate or hard-wired behaviors. This will then help us understand how these wiring instructions can go awry in abnormal brain development.

One of the central puzzles in neuroscience is how a neuron chooses the correct synaptic contacts during development when faced with tens of thousands of potential targets. My previous research interests have centered on how the experience of an animal can refine neural circuits, and more recently I have investigated how hard-wired neural circuits underlying innate behaviors wire up.

To uncover the different molecules and strategies underlying the wiring instructions neurons use to self-assemble into a neural circuit, my lab combines high-resolution imaging techniques with advanced molecular genetics in different model systems to look inside living animals while their neurons form synapses. My research uses the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster to identify underlying genetic mechanisms of neural wiring, and we apply these findings to the mouse neocortex to investigate the common molecular rules that might be used to wire up the human brain.

My lab currently investigates 3 main topics:

1) My Magnum Opus: What is the comprehensive list of molecules that are necessary and sufficient to completely wire up a neuron’s hard-wired synaptic connectivity?

2) Measuring protein synthesis in real time in single cells in vivo: We have recently developed a technique to quantitate (exogenous and endogenous) protein levels in single cells in vivo. We are now expanding this technique to track when, where, and how much a protein is produced instantaneously in a single cell in the living animal.

3) Democratizing access to genomics: The world of genomics can be intimidating to enter because of the large amounts of complex biological information involved. I created GeneDig.org to lower the barrier of entry into genomics by allowing easy and efficient access to this information. I believe that access to genomic information is important, and my goal is to make all genomic information easily accessible and useful. Try it out: GeneDig.orgGeneDig

Join my lab and change the world.


.