Current Research Projects

Sleep-metabolism interactions in the fruit fly

Disrupted sleep is thought to contribute to many metabolic diseases including diabetes, obesity and heart disease.  We have found that flies, like mammals, suppress sleep when starved, providing a system to interrogate sleep-metabolism interactions.  We have performed a screen to identify novel regulators of sleep-metabolism interactions and are currently investigating the genes and neural circuits that integrate these processes.

The evolution of sleep loss in Mexican cavefish

We identified the evolution of sleep loss in Mexican cavefish.  We have been developing this system over the past 10 years to identify novel sleep genes, and understand why sleep varies throughout the animal kingdom.  We are also developing transgenic tools to image brain activity and manipulate neural function in this emergent genetic model system.

Neural mechanisms governing taste memory in the fruit fly

We are currently investigating neural circuits governing feeding behavior and taste memory in the fly.  In collaboration with Pavel Masek, we have identified  a dopamine modulated circuit that controls the formation of aversive taste memory.  In addition, we have characterized the taste of fatty acids and identified novel fatty acid receptors in flies.

Investigating the genetic basis of sleep through experimental evolution

Energy conservation is thought to be a central function of sleep.  In collaboration with Allen Gibbs (UNLV) we have characterized sleep and metabolic phentoypes in outbred flies selected for starvation resistance. These flies live up to two weeks on food and sleep more than controls.  We are currently investigating the genetic basis of these sleep changes, and how they relate to the metabolic changes that result from experimental evolution.