Tech X: Elucidating Cells of the Brain!

This week I wanted to take the time to shout out the work being done by George in the Mooney Lab! George’s talk stood out to me for two different reasons. The first is the fact that he gets to perform bird surgery this summer (wow) and the second is the potential impact on the field of neurobiology.

The fact that George performs surgery on zebra finches is mind-boggling to me. For context, I work with single-celled budding yeast (nowhere near a whole bird). When I need yeast for an experiment, I take a colony and inoculate a tube. When I need to dispose of a yeast culture, I spray some bleach. When I want to tag a protein, I can use PCR and an antibiotic plasmid. Due to the ease of growing them as well as their highly conserved metabolic pathways, yeast are wonderful model organisms for understanding molecular biology. In turn, zebra finches are a wonderful model organism for the Mooney Lab, which works primarily to understand neural mechanisms behind language. That being said, performing surgery on a living bird and then having to “sack” that bird is in a whole other league to spraying bleach in a flask. It is crazy how different our days in the lab look!

Now, onto the project. To summarize, George’s project is to test whether a new technology, dubbed Tech X, is functional in the dopaminergic neuron cells of zebra finches. The specific mechanisms of Tech X are unknown to me (for proprietary reasons of course), but what George divulged was that Tech X binds to specific RNA and fluoresces using green fluorescent protein (GFP). What’s so cool about this is that (if it works) Tech X will allow neurobiologists to make specific neurons fluoresce and therefore study them! Another part of George’s talk that I found interesting was that he’ll be targeting dopaminergic neuron cells. Dopaminergic cells, as the name suggests, make the neurotransmitter dopamine! For the Mooney Lab, dopamine is important because of its role in the language pathways of zebra finches. Beyond language however, dopamine’s most famous role is in that of reward. Drugs, from caffeine to cocaine, act in the mesolimbic pathway to essentially prolong the time dopamine is in the synapse of the neurons in the nucleus accumbens. Hopefully, the success of Tech X in making dopaminergic neurons fluoresce will reach beyond language and into other important avenues of neuroscience!

This goes without saying, but the brain is an incredibly complex organ to study. Developing technologies like Tech X help neurobiologists further understand how cellular interactions form complex networks that enable us to think, regulate our bodies’ metabolism, and perceive the world. Neurobiology is so so cool (at least I think so) so I really enjoyed hearing the many neurobiology talks this week!

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