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Faculty Spotlight - Andrew Dacks

Assistant Professor

Andrew Dacks

Department of Biology

I fell in love with entomology as an undergraduate at the University of Alberta, and in particular became fascinated with the ability of insects to shift between different behavioral states.  The ability of locusts to shift from solitary to gregarious to form plagues is a great example. Insects are particularly good models for studying how our responses change under different circumstances as their nervous system has far fewer neurons and are incredibly robust in many experimental preparations. I received my Bachelor's of Science in Invertebrate Biology from University of Alberta, Ph.D. in Insect Science from University of Arizona, Post-doc in Department of Neuroscience at University of Arizona and Post-doc in Department of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. I study how the brain adjusts its activity in response to different conditions. Specifically, we study "Modulatory neurons" that fine tune how other neurons respond to input and communicate with each other by releasing signaling molecules called "neuromodulators".  Our goal is to determine how neuromodulatory neurons affect individual neurons and whole sensory networks, as well as the mechanisms that drive the activation and regulation of modulatory neurons.

I have three recent publications that I am extremely excited about. The first is by my student Tyler Sizemore who established a comprehensive atlas of serotonin receptor expression within the olfactory system. This allows us to establish which neurons are affected by serotonin, allowing us to now dissect the influence of individual receptors expressed by select classes of neurons. The second paper is a collaborative effort with Dr. Kevin Daly in the Department of Biology. In this study, we show that neurons that provide information about motor output to sensory networks that process touch information are conserved from insects to centipedes, but have been co-opted in moths to influence the olfactory system.  The third publication is by my student Kaylynn Coates about the connectivity of identified serotonergic neurons in the olfactory system. This allows us to ask who serotonin neurons talk to and who talks back to the serotonin neurons by using neurons that can be identified from one animal to the next. When I'm not in the lab my favorite pass time is to play my old time mandolin with my daughter who plays the fiddle. We've also just started to teach my son, who is turning 3, to play the fiddle as well.