Laboratory of Dr. Andrew Dacks
I am originally from southern WV (Beckley, WV) and received
a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Psychology from WVU. I am currently a Ph.D. candidate working
alongside Dr. Andrew Dacks in the Department of Biology.
My love for scientific research came later in life; in fact,
I didn’t do formal research until the last few months of my undergraduate
career. I had always been captivated by
cellular/molecular biology, but I had not considered the possibility of a
career investigating what I was learning about in the classroom until a
friend/mentor suggested such. So, I
tested the “research waters” for a year, before rotating into Dr. Dacks’ lab at
the beginning of the summer in 2015.
And, ever since entering Dr. Dacks’ lab, my passion for research has
continued to flourish.
My research focuses on a phenomenon called
“neuromodulation,” where an animal’s state informs the way they perceive and
react to their sensory environment. For
example, how you perceive the smell of large quantities of food can be altered
if you’ve just binged on that food.
Ultimately, our lab seeks to reveal the cellular/molecular mechanisms
neuromodulators use to adjust nervous systems to account for physiological
More specifically, my research focuses on a particular neuromodulator
called serotonin (or 5-HT). To
understand the mechanisms behind 5-HT’s ability to transform sensory
processing, I use the model organism Drosophila
melanogaster (or, the fruit fly). The fruit fly is an extraordinarily powerful
organism to use for these investigations because: (1) their brains are
remarkably similar to vertebrate brains, but they use fewer neurons, (2) I can
genetically manipulate neurons of my choosing, and (3) fruit flies are
relatively cheap and easy to maintain. Recently,
I published the first functional atlas for all five of the 5-HT receptors
within the fruit fly olfactory system. This
study characterized the type, and quantity, of neurons in the Drosophila olfactory system that express
each of the five 5-HT receptors. Since
then, we have begun working with collaborators across the country to perform
similar studies in other sensory systems. Going forward, we can use genetic approaches
to remove 5-HT’s ability to affect these neurons and observe how that alters
the fly’s physiological and behavioral responses to a given smell. Ultimately, this research can be used to
inform our understanding of neuromodulation within the human nervous system.
I cherish my family and friends and spend time with them
when I can get away from the lab. I also
like to work out (mostly running these days), play guitar, and watch/stream
movies and shows with my lovely girlfriend in my free time. Additionally, I like to explore the wonderful
trails West Virginia offers, go to a Mountaineer football game (Let’s Go!), and
read a good book.