We are exceedingly proud to announce that two NIFTI faculty are recipients of a 2017 University of Washington Innovation Award! The UW Innovation Awards “fuel the ideas that address problems of humanity while encouraging and celebrating creativity among faculty”. The purpose of the awards is to “stimulate innovation among faculty from a range of disciplines and to reward some of their most terrific ideas.”
This year, four awards were given across the entire University of Washington, and two of the four awards went to projects involving NIFTI PIs! Since the award’s inception in 2014, 13 faculty projects have received Innovation Awards totaling $3 million. The NIFTI award winners this year were: Bing Brunton (as part of a team with non-NIFTI faculty David Gire) and Jeff Riffell. Each of their awarded projects is described below.
Modulating complex natural behaviors in rodents with direct closed-loop control of neural systems
Bing Brunton, NIFTI PI, Assistant Professor, UW Biology
David Gire, Assistant Professor, UW Psychology
This project will characterize how networks of neurons in different brain areas interact while an animal solves a complex task. To do this, Drs. Brunton and Gire will combine large-scale, high-density neural recordings with data-driven modeling. Their goal is to understand the dynamic neural computations that support natural behaviors. This will also provide them the unique opportunity to directly manipulate brain activity and influence natural behavior. They will be developing a closed-loop electronic system in collaboration with the non-profit Open Ephys.
They state: “The hardware and software platforms developed as part of this project will be shared as open-source resources for the wider neuroengineering community. This cutting-edge effort will illuminate our understanding of how coordinated brain activity supports ecologically important behaviors, as well as contribute a network-theoretic perspective of brain function and dysfunctions that manifest as neurological and mental disorders…This demonstration is an essential step towards implementing targeted bioelectronics therapies for a variety of major neurological and psychiatric disorders”. Their project addresses these questions by leveraging the experimental neuroscience expertise of the Gire lab and novel computational approaches from the Brunton lab.
Generating mutant mosquitoes to identify the genetic and neural bases of human host-seeking behavior
Jeff Riffell, NIFTI Associate Professor, UW Biology
Mosquitos can carry a number of serious human diseases, including malaria, yellow fever, Zika, and West Nile virus. Mosquitos locate hosts using their sensitive olfactory system, and many vary in their preference for individual humans or other hosts. Prior experience with a host affects future host choices, and many mosquitos can change their host preference if necessary. However, there is no information about the neural and genetic bases of these behaviors.
In this project, Dr. Riffell’s work with mosquitos will use “cutting-edge genetic manipulations and new neurophysiological recording methods to identify the genetic and olfactory bases of host preferences in mosquitos”. Additionally, Dr. Riffell will investigate how learning modifies mosquito behavior in regards to host choice. Ultimately, one goal of this work is to determine if there are possible genetic targets for mosquito control.