I am interested in understanding how animals can innovate novel behaviors in order to adapt to new challenges or opportunities in their environment.
Numerous examples of animal innovation have been observed in the wild, such as primates learning to wash potatoes before eating, rats learning to strip pine cones to access seeds, or birds learning to open and drink from milk bottles. Learned traits of this kind can be highly adaptive (e.g. birds that can access milk may have improved fitness), and can drive evolution of morphological or physiological traits (e.g. bottle-opening birds may face selection for lactose digestion genes). It is thought that behavioral innovation played a key role in human evolution, and today is a critical mode of adaptation for animals facing rapid ecological disruptions such as climate change and urbanization.
Despite its importance in zoological evolution, the neurobiological mechanisms underlying behavioral innovation remain largely unknown. I am using Drosophila melanogaster as a model system for the study of animal innovation. Combining modern genetic tools, machine vision and quantitative behavioral analysis, I am developing a high-throughput platform to analyze the learning processes, neural mechanisms and genes driving behavioral plasticity and the innovation of novel behaviors.
Corfas RA and Vosshall LB. The cation channel TRPA1 tunes mosquito thermotaxis to host temperatures. eLife 4, e11750 (2015). https://elifesciences.org/content/4/e11750
McMeniman CJ, Corfas RA, Matthews BJ, Ritchie SA, Vosshall LB. Multimodal integration of carbon dioxide and other sensory cues drives mosquito attraction to humans. Cell 156, 1060–1071 (2014). http://www.cell.com/abstract/S0092-8674(14)00155-X
Ph.D. Biology, The Rockefeller University, 2016
B.A. Neuroscience, Oberlin College, 2008