Conceptual Innovators – Good Reading!

When breaking into neuroscience and genomics, it is the concepts that are so important to get hold of.  Conceptual innovation is a primary goal of basic biology.  Technical innovation is often just a necessary step on the road to uncovering important new concepts.  So which labs are the most conceptually innovative, with particular regard to thinking about gene-behavior problems?


Here are some of my favorites for reading (in no particular order):


1.  Eve Marder – Eve Marder uses the lobster as a model organism.  Her work takes advantage of the simplicity of this model to understand how underlying molecular programs relate to the physiological properties of neurons and maintain neuronal homeostasis.


2.  Cornelia Bargmann – Dr. Bargmann uses C. Elegans as a model to understand the link between gene expression/evolution, neural circuit function/organization and behavior.  Her work has extracted several general principles that are influential for understanding the genetic pathways that influence behavioral modifications as species diverge.  In particular, she notes that sensory system are the most rapidly evolving systems in the genome to allow species to adapt to new environments and suggests a central role for neuromodulators in the evolution of novel behaviors.


3.  Eric Lander – Eric Lander leads the Broad Institute and his work is uncovering the nature of the genome.  Many groups are doing important work in this area and other suggestions for reading include John Rinn, Joseph F Costello, Brad Cairns, David Bartel…


4.  Edward Callaway – Understanding neuronal circuit organization is fundamental to understanding the brain.  Many groups have tried to develop effective tools for circuit mapping in the brain.  The Callaway lab has developed the best system that is currently available and they are uncovering important general principles of circuit organization using this rabies virus based system.  Other groups to read in this area include Larry Swanson, Clay Reid, Lynn Enquist, Sydney Brenner.


5.  TJ Sejnowski – A fundamental challenge in neurobiology is to understand how the brain computes information.  Theoretical models are often integrated with experimental data in computational neuroscience to gain insights. The Sejnowski lab is a pioneering lab attempting to understand computational problems in the brain at multiple levels (synapse to system).


6.  Tom Jessell – Developmental neurobiology is a fantastic field that works to explain how an incredibly complex and functional nervous system emerges during embryonic development.  The Jessell lab and former postdocs of the Jessell lab have made some the most significant contributions to this problem.  The work indicates the gradients of signaling molecules establish transcription factor codes that govern cell fate decisions and connectivity in the nervous system.  Publications from this lab are also excellent educational examples of how to write a paper and carry out a project.  Related reading includes publications from Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Dennis O’Leary, Gord Fishell, Andrew Lumsden.


7.  Charles Zucker – Sensory systems neuroscience is one of my favorite areas and many great scientists have impacted this area.  However, my favorite is the Zucker lab, which continues to publish fantastic insights that address fundamental concepts associated with sensory processing, particularly related to taste.  Other groups for reading include Richard Axel, David Julius, David Corey.


8.  Conrad Waddington – An evolutionary biologist whom introduced the important and influential concept of canalization.  Of the many great evolutionary theories that have been contributed, canalization seems particularly important when beginning to consider the organization of molecular pathways and epigenetic regulatory processes.


9.  David W. Stephens – Dr. Stephens is a leading thinker in foraging theory and the ecology of foraging behavior.  He has authored two very influential books.  The concepts that emerge from this field are highly influential for thinking about numerous problems in neuroscience, ranging from decision making and social behavior to motivated behavior, innate drive and the maintenance of homeostasis.


10.  Stephen Hyman – if you want to begin to understand neurological and psychiatric diseases, start by reading Stephen Hyman’s papers and thoughts.


11.  Leroy Hood – The father of systems biology.  Dr. Hood is leading a revolution that seeks to integrate high throughput technologies with mathematical modeling to gain a systems level understand of cell function, disease biology, and numerous other biological processes.


12.  Joe Nadeau – Joe Nadeau’s work has been challenging our understanding of  disease and trait inheritence in mice and in humans.  His work is revealing startling transgenerational effects and epistatic interactions that influence complex phenotypes in offspring.  He has argued that we should focus on understanding pathways that modify disease rather than simply uncovering disease causing genetic muations.


13.  David Barker –  The pioneering physician who uncovered the link between early life environmental effects and increased disease risks in later life.  This is one of the most reproducible and important epidemilogical finds of the past several decades.  It has fundamentally changed how we view disease risk – the path to disease begins early in life.


14.  Eric Charnov – One of the most influential minds in evolutionary biology and economic theory.  Dr. Charnov is best known for developing the Marginal Value Theorem of optimal foraging behavior (1976, Theor Popul Biol), but he has made numerous conceptual contributions to evolutionary biology, foraging theory and economics.  His work is a must read for people interested in such things.

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