In 2018, the National Academy of Taiwan, Academia Sinica, celebrated its 90th Anniversary as Taiwan’s leading research institution. Open Biology invited researchers from the academy’s Neuroscience Program in Academia Sinica (NPAS) to contribute to a commemorative article collection celebrating the program’s own 10-year anniversary. Academia Sinica aims to promote international cooperation and undertake scholarly research across a number of fields in sciences and humanities. One of these fields is neuroscience, which is seeing fascinating progress and at the same time many challenges to increase interdisciplinary research, in order to elucidate the cause of diseases and to explore efficacious treatments for neurological and psychiatric diseases. The academy’s Neuroscience Program in Academia Sinica (NPAS) was created in 2008 to meet this demand and aims to promote neuroscience research through seminar series, workshops and symposia with invited speakers from all around the world. We asked one of the contributors, Dr Suewei Lin, about his lab’s work and future research.

 

What made you choose your research field?

I have always been fascinated by the brain, particularly its intricate wiring diagram and computational power. I did my PhD research with Professor Tzumin Lee, initially at UMASS Medical School and later at Janelia Farm Research Campus. We wanted to understand how diverse neuronal types arise from a limited number of neural stem cells. We studied this problem in the fruit fly Drosophila. Tzumin is well known for generating fly genetic tools to trace the developmental timing and origin of individual neurons in the fly brain. He introduced me to the beauty of fly genetics. I will always remember the first time I looked into a microscope and saw a single genetically engineered neuron, beautifully illuminated by green fluorescence proteins. I was blown away by the cellular resolution we can get with simple but elegant genetic tricks. That is when I decided to become a fly neurobiologist. While working on my PhD project, I encountered the work of Prof. Scott Waddell, whose lab was next to ours. By investigating the small brain of the fruit fly, Scott’s group beautifully revealed fundamental principles of learning and memory. I was intrigued by Scott’s research and joined his group as a postdoc at the University of Oxford in the UK, where he moved in 2011. Now, I have my own research group at the Institute of Molecular Biology in Academia Sinica, Taiwan. Thanks to the influence of my two great mentors, my group now works on both brain development and the neural basis of behaviour.

 

Please tell us the key message of your Review article

Hunger is a mysterious thing. We are all familiar with the feeling of hunger, but what exactly is it? How does it influence our brain so that we behave differently when we are hungry? Studies in the fruit fly have provided important insights into these fundamental questions. In this Review article, we discuss our current understanding of how hunger is sensed and translated into neural signals in the fly brain, and how these signals modulate peripheral and central neural circuits of the fly to control its feeding and food-seeking behavior.


What are the next steps for your research?

There are many exciting projects going on in our lab right now. One of the best things about doing science is that you never know where you will be led by unexpected findings. Nevertheless, a major research direction in our lab now is to understand how the brain prioritises different bodily needs to select the best course of action for survival. We have identified a neural circuit in the fly that controls both food- and water-seeking behavior. We are currently investigating how this circuit tunes the foraging decisions of flies by integrating and evaluating signals evoked by starvation or dehydration.

 

 

Open Biology welcomes proposals for special collections of thematically related high quality manuscripts that explore novel areas of neuroscience, cell and molecular biology. If you would like to submit a proposal, we encourage you to get in touch with us at openbiology@royalsociety.org.

 

Image credits:
1. Neuroscience Program in Academia Sinica (NPAS) Group
2. Dr Suewei Lin, Academia Sinica
3. The Suewei Lin lab group, Academia Sinica

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