Scents and Sensibility; Representations of the Olfactory World in the Brain
About the speaker
University Professor, Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, Columbia University
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Richard Axel is a University Professor at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University and an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In earlier studies with his colleagues, Michael Wigler and Saul Silverstein, he developed gene transfer techniques that permit the introduction of virtually any gene into any mammalian cell. These studies not only afforded a novel approach to isolate genes but also permitted a detailed analysis of how they worked. This approach led to the isolation and functional analysis of the gene for the lymphocyte surface protein, CD4, the cellular receptor for the AIDS virus, HIV.
He then began to apply molecular biology to problems in neuroscience with the expectation that genetics could interface with neuroscience to approach the relationship between genes and behavior. His studies on the logic of the sense of smell revealed over a thousand genes involved in the recognition of odors and provided insight into how genes shape our perception of the sensory environment. Current work in his lab centers on how the recognition of odors is translated into an internal representation of sensory quality in the brain and how value is imposed on this representation to elicit meaningful thoughts and behavior.