Model organisms we study

Photo: Model organisms we study
Left to right:The vinegar fly, Drosophila melanogaster; the yellow fever and Dengue vector mosquito, Aedes aegypti; normal human subjects. Stock photo credits: Fotolia.com (©Studiotouch ©EW CHEE GUAN ©sculpies)

The overall goal of work in our laboratory is to understand how complex behaviors are modulated by external chemosensory cues and internal physiological states. The lab takes a multi-disciplinary approach spanning cell biology, genetics, neurobiology and behavior. Our early focus has been to study how the brain interprets olfactory signals in the environment that signal food, danger, or potential mating partners. We have been studying these problems in three model organisms: the fly, the mosquito and the human. The majority of the early work in the laboratory was carried out in the genetically tractable vinegar fly, Drosophila melanogaster, which displays a rich repertoire of chemosensory behaviors despite having a nervous system with only 100,000 neurons. In this animal, we have studied the functional neuroanatomy of the olfactory system, how this system perceives sex pheromones, and the structure and function of the insect odorant receptors.

We have recently expanded our research focus in three major directions. First, we are establishing a mosquito genetics research program to understand host-seeking and blood-feeding behavior in the mosquito. Second, we are carrying out large-scale human subjects research to combine olfactory psychophysics with genetic analysis to understand the mechanisms of olfactory perception in humans. Third, we are getting increasingly interested in the links between olfaction and feeding behavior and hope to use Drosophila as a powerful model to understand how smell intersects with hunger and satiety in all animals.

The long-term goal of all of our work is to understand how behaviors emerge from the integration of sensory input with internal physiological states.

SmellResearch in our lab is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Klarman Family Foundation Grants Program in Eating Disorders Research. We are grateful for past support from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the John Merck Foundation, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, the McKnight Endowment Trust for Neuroscience, the Irma T. Hirschl Trust, and the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, administered by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health.

Vosshall Lab Photo Nov. 2011Photo: Vosshall Lab November 2011
Left to right:Debby Beck, Leslie Vosshall, Chloe Goldman, Steve Conway, Matt DeGennaro, Peggy Hempstead, Ben Matthews, Jennifer Bussell, Nilay Yapici, Andreas Keller, Gabriel Gasque, Emily Dennis, Conor McMeniman, Sean McKenzie, Lindsay Bellani, Roman Corfas, Jeff Liesch, Isabel Gutierrez, Laura Seeholzer, Allison Goff, Barbara Ghelardi, Felix Baier.
Not pictured: Mike Crickmore, Lindy McBride
Photograph ©2011 Ronniedavidphotography.com

"The act of smelling something, anything, is remarkably like the act of thinking. Immediately at the moment of perception, you can feel the mind going to work, sending the odor around from place to place, setting off complex repertories through the brain, polling one center after another for signs of recognition, for old memories and old connection." Lewis Thomas

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