Our research

In humans, smell is often viewed as an aesthetic sense - one capable of eliciting enduring thoughts and memories. Smell is, however, the primal sense. It is evolutionarily the most primitive sense, and for most organisms it is the central sensory modality employed to detect food, predators and mates. Whether smell is primal or aesthetic, all organisms have evolved a mechanism to transmit olfactory information to the brain to create an internal representation of the external world. We are interested in the imposition of value on sensory representations in flies, mice and cuttlefish, and the neural processes that translate patterns of neural activity into appropriate behavior. Our laboratory combines genetics with behavior and the recording of neural activity to study the circuits that translate information in the external world into appropriate innate responses. In separate experiments we ask how value is imposed on seemingly neutral perceptive stimuli to elicit learned behavioral responses. The complexity of neural computations required to translate stimulus features into meaningful behaviors has led us to a pleasurable and essential collaboration with the theoretical neuroscientist Larry Abbott.

More information on our research

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Piriform cortex neurons
Credit: Cristian Boboila

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Glomerulus from the main olfactory bulb
Credit: Eliza Jaeger; Bianca Jones Marlin


Seminal receptacle of the female Drosophila reproductive tract, with stored sperm. Cyan: muscle actin filaments, red: sperm heads. Credit: Kevin Cury


Drosophila female lower reproductive tract and ovipositor. Magenta: muscle actin filaments, yellow: sperm heads, cyan: auto-fluorescence. Credit: Kevin Cury


Top image: The olfactory circuit of the fly. Yellow: Olfactory Receptor Neurons (Or67d), magenta: Projection Neurons (DA1), green: Kenyon Cells (alpha/beta KCs), gray: neuropil (nc82). Credit: Yoshinori Aso, Daisuke Hattori, Vanessa Ruta