3074 Neurogenomics: From Genes to Brains to Behavior (and Back Again)

Sunday, February 20, 2011: 1:30 PM
146A (Washington Convention Center )
David Clayton , University of Illinois, Urbana, IL
Understanding the brain will require spanning levels of analysis.  Brains are made of billions of cells, each of which functions according to the rules of the genome. Yet the function of the brain itself is directed towards the unitary organism and even beyond, to optimize the organism's behavior in larger social groups. Brain design must also be explained in terms of the evolutionary path that led to its emergence on a vast timescale. Songbirds, like the zebra finch, are an emerging model organism for understanding how these different dimensions interact. Songbirds communicate through learned vocalizations, and they evolved discrete brain circuitry to manage this behavior. New tools from engineering and the physical sciences are helping us visualize these circuits and even what happens to the cells in them as they function. Amazingly we find that the simple act of hearing or producing a song alters the expression of hundreds and even thousands of genes in song-related circuits.  Teasing apart the logic and design of these complex and dynamic molecular networks is a major challenge for future research and will require a creative blend of biological, mathematical, computational and physical approaches.
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