Eliot Circular

Professors’ Corner

Times Literary Supplement

David Schiff [music 1980–] wrote a cover story for the Times Literary Supplement last month on the American composer Marc Blitzstein.

Several members of the faculty were awarded grants from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust in 2013.

Enriqueta Canseco-Gonzalez [psychology 1992–] won $50,000 to investigate brain plasticity by recording human brain activity elicited by auditory “soundscapes” before and after undergoing sensory substitution training. Such training allows subjects to extract shape information from auditory stimuli. The success of the sensory substitution procedure will be assessed in a task using novel sounds to identify novel shapes. She hopes to demonstrate the time course of lateral occipital complex activity in shape processing (regardless of modality) and assess how it is modulated by cross-modal plasticity.

Kara Cerveny [biology 2012–] won $52,000 for a project investigating how the vertebrate eye grows, specifically regarding the origin and maintenance of neural stem cells in the zebrafish retina. Stem cells can proliferate indefinitely. Stem cell niches provide an environment that controls the balance between proliferation and differentiation, ensuring that the appropriate numbers of new cells are generated. To elucidate how neural stem cell niches are formed and maintained, this project exploits a powerful model: the growing zebrafish eye and its stem cell niche, the ciliary marginal zone (CMZ). The experiments decipher the origins of the CMZ and investigate how a niche-produced signal, retinoic acid, controls proliferation and differentiation. The results will shed light on the regulation of neural tissue growth, with implications for neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders. 

Jay Mellies [biology 1999–] won $50,000 to investigate the metabolism of enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC). Mellies has discovered that the plasmid-encoded virulence regulator PerC in EPEC controls expression of an enzyme involved in central metabolism. He proposes to investigate predicted growth deficiencies of an EPEC strain where the gene encoding the acetyl-CoA acetyltransferase has been deleted, and demonstrate in competition assays that a virulence gene regulatory circuitry confers a selective advantage on EPEC via enhanced metabolic activity. This work has important implications for our understanding of niche adaptation, which is critical for bacterial pathogens that cause disease in human hosts.

Erik Zornik [biology 2012–] won $52,000 to investigate how hormones regulate behavior. Zornik will investigate how hormones and the brain control frog (Xenopus laevis) vocalizations. Vocal circuit activity is altered following castration, indicating that hormones maintain vocal networks. Using an experimentally powerful “calling brain in a dish” preparation, he will 1) verify that androgens (such as testosterone) maintain normal vocal circuit function, 2) identify neuronal activity patterns that may underlie circuit changes, and 3) determine whether identified neurons express hormone receptors. Results will provide a strong foundation for understanding the relationship between hormones and behavior.