Professor, Department of Biology
Ph.D. University of California, San Diego
Research Interests: Neuronal basis of behavior
Overview: We study how the nervous system controls behavior by analyzing the neural networks for decision making, focusing on spatial exploration behaviors, and food choice involving trade-offs that mimic human economic decisions. We investigate how these networks function using a combination of experimental and theoretical approaches. We track the movements of worms at high spatiotemporal resolution in complex naturalistic environments to determine the underlying behavioral strategies. Neuronal function is assessed by investigating changes in behavior caused by genetic mutations, neuronal ablations, and optogenetic manipulations. We also make optical recordings in freely moving animals to correlate neuronal activity patterns and behavior; these experiments are facilitated by microfluidic devices to control the worm's local sensory environment. Patch-clamp electrophysiological recordings are made from normal and mutant animals to determine how the electrical properties of neurons influence network function. Experimental data are synthesized in predictive theoretical models. Predictions are tested experimentally and the results are used to improve our theoretical understanding of the function of biological networks. These results provide new insights into the cellular and molecular mechanisms of information processing underlying animal behavior.