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Student Spotlight - Tyler Sizemore

PhD Candidate - Department of Biology

Tyler Sizemore

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 context.  

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.

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