So we’ve been VERY bad at updating this site in the last year….in no small part because everyone in the lab is really busy doing science! And so we’ve accumulated lots of updates and pics of fun things we’ve been up to. With your collective forgiveness, we are just going to dump all these en masse to the blog. We look forward (fingers crossed) to being better about keeping up with the changes in the lab as they happen on this site…sooner or later.
Check out this gorgeous image from lab member David Brann in Harvard Medicine Magazine. David was imaging hippocampus, of course, because here in the Datta lab we care about ALL of allocortex! Be sure to check out the other cool images from our colleagues at HMS via the link below.
This summer has been great – lots of science and writing getting done as things have quieted down with the end of the school year. That said, it has been a bit bittersweet — three of our core lab members, Ralph Peterson (NE Co-op, then technician), Dan Bear (former grad student, now postdoc), and Paul Greer (postdoc) are moving on to the next stages of their career and so are leaving the lab. Ralph is moving to San Francisco to work on a start-up that aims to help move IP from the lab into the real world (although he will be working part-time remotely to help finish up some really interesting behavioral work he started). Dan is going to be a postdoc in Dan Yamins lab at Stanford (http://web.stanford.edu/~yamins/); although I predict some cracking open convolutional neural nets is in his future, the great thing about science is that you never know what is next. Paul is starting his own lab at U. Mass Worcester, which is an amazing achievement. He was the very first postdoc in the lab, helped define who we are and what we do, and it is terrific to see how much his toolbox has expanded now that he is going off to do great things on his own. All will be deeply missed.
To celebrate all of this, and to celebrate the (final and formal) awarding of degrees to Tari and Dan, we decided to go bowling. It should be no surprise that it got competitive. It should be even less surprising that the degree of trash talking was not related to actual performance.
|We are very serious bowlers|
|Ralphie with great form|
|Paul gets a strike!|
|Tari loves wings!|
…and the story from our cab driver about the time it flooded in Jacksonville and his best friend found a shark swimming in his front lawn, but we stayed for the bats! Bob, Tatsuya and Ralph visited the University of Florida recently to hang out with Steve Munger – Steve had invited us down to check out some of the odor-triggered behaviors he and his student Art have been working on. In addition to being an incredibly gracious host, Steve took us to see the bats – UF has a series of bat houses (whose construction was sponsored by Bacardi, natch) housing thousands of bats, which leave en masse for the hunt every evening. The squiggles above our heads? Bats! Thanks, Steve for a great visit – much appreciated.
A huge congratulations to Dan Bear and Tari Tan, who graduated with their PhDs this week. On top of all this, as the official DMS Class Day speaker Tari gave an amazing speech about learning to manage uncertainty (which is doubtless at the core of successful science). Dan is heading off in a few weeks to do a postdoc at Stanford with Dan Yamins in computational neuroscience, while Tari, as the inaugural DMS Teaching Fellow, is engineering the revamp of the neuroscience curriculum in the Program in Neuroscience before heading to Max Heiman’s lab at HMS Genetics to do a postdoc. A huge congratulations to both!
|Tari, with certainty, sharing her thoughts about uncertainty to the graduating class|
|The three wizards!|
Using a mechanism that is likely much more complicated that we thought! Check out the lab’s most recent paper, from the inimitable Giuliano Iurilli, who performed the first systematic in vivo recordings ever in a part of the brain called the posterolateral cortical amygdala (plCoA), which couples odors (like fox odor or the scent of peanut butter) to different innate behaviors like attraction and aversion. Based upon anatomic and functional data (including from Sosulski et al), we and others predicted that odor representations in the plCoA should be pretty simple – probably labeled lines that either identified particular odors (i.e., we’d find that neurons in plCoA responded only to single innately relevant odors, so some neurons would respond only to fox odor while other neurons would respond only to peanut butter) or categorized odors based upon their behavioral meaning (i.e., we’d find some plCoA neurons that respond to all odors that are appetitive and other that respond to all odors that are aversive). Instead what Giuliano found was that individual neurons in the plCoA do not encode information about odor identity or odor category. Ensembles of neurons in plCoA appear to collectively convey information about the identity of odor objects in the world, and the structure of these ensembles is similar regardless of the identity or behavioral meaning of the odor object being encoded – at least in psuedopopulations of neurons assembled from multiple animals. In other words, odor representations in plCoA, which is known to be involved in innate behaviors, look just like those in the piriform cortex, which is involved in odor learning. This surprise suggests a dual role for the plCoA in both innate and learned behaviors, and new models for how the olfactory system can flexibly generate behaviors to innately-relevant odor cues in the environment. These data don’t definitively rule out labeled lines, but strongly suggest that the plCoA is doing much more than just acting as a relay. Check out his provocative – and exciting – paper here! Yoram Ben Shaul also wrote a great preview of the paper here (for those who want a little more context), and the paper was recently covered by the Simons Foundation (the work was supported in part by the Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain) here. Congrats, Giuliano!
…but not here. The folks at BioMed Central did a round-up of recent advances in behavioral quantification for neuroscience, and featured work by Alex, Matt, Jeff, Ralph and the rest of Team Behavior in the lab. It also includes a really nice summary of different approaches taken to this general problem, and includes bits and pieces about work by many of our friends and colleagues, including Gordon Berman, Kristen Branson, Megan Carey, Eiman Azim and Adam Hantman, all of whom are making great strides in developing modern methods for behavioral characterization. Blog post can be found at this link: http://blogs.biomedcentral.
Although in many respects 2016 was a bummer (RIP Prince and Princess Leia), it was a really terrific year for the lab. We celebrated in style with tapas, before bouncing, as is traditional, to Eastern Standard with the Sabalab and Stevens lab for vodka gimlets. Here’s to us all having a happy and productive 2017!
|This year, Jeff is Judas|
|Paul, having trouble feeding himself|
….its intimate relationship with evolution. In addition to being the largest gene family in mammals, the odorant receptor genes are some of the fastest evolving. This suggests that perception is being sculpted on rapid timescales to enable individual species to detect and respond to those specific scents that are most critical for their survival and reproduction. Dan Bear (along with Jean Marc Lassance and Hopi Hoekstra) recently wrote a great review on what we can learn about smell by looking at evolutionary dynamics in Current Biology, which can be found here. It is part of a great review issue on evolution and the nervous system – check it out!