Graduate Training in Neuroscience
University of Washington
I am an evolutionary biologist interested in the role of natural genetic variation in patterns of aging. The study of aging has led our lab in many directions, including to the analysis of behavior and brain function. Two specific Drosophila projects focus on issues related to brain and behavior. Over the past 25 years, researchers have identified insulin signaling as a key pathway influencing patterns of aging in model organisms. Recent studies have found that insulin signaling also appears to play an important role in the development of traits that are important in mate choice. We are using the fruit fly as a model system to explore the role that insulin signaling plays in shaping mate attractiveness and mate preference in natural populations. These studies include the use of molecular and evolutionary genetic approaches to better understand the connection between insulin signaling, sensory perception, chemical communication, mate choice and fitness. This study also takes advantage of metabolomic profiling as a way to link genotype to phenotype. A second set of studies, in collaboration with Leo Pallanck in the Department of Genome Sciences at UW, uses statistical network analysis of metabolomic profiles to better understand the mechanistic pathways associated with neurogenerative diseases in flies. Researchers have identified numerous mutants in the fly that recapitulate neurodegenerative diseases seen in humans. We are using metabolomic approaches to identify natural variants associated with neurodegeneration, and to better understand the functional mechanisms by which these mutations give rise to neurodegeneration.