My name is DJ Brasier. I took Mr. Baker's freshman biology class back in 1994, and my senior year he taught an advanced class in genetics instead of the AP biology that you all are taking. In college, I majored in biology with an emphasis on cellular and molecular processes.
I went to graduate school at Univ. of California, San Diego in Neurosciences where my dissertation focused on how the synaptic connections between neurons change as your brain learns. Aside from my dissertation work, I've done molecular neurobiology research on protein structure and function. Currently, I'm working as a postdoctoral fellow at UC - San Francisco. I've had to reacquaint myself with the details of genetics that I learned in Mr. Baker's genetics class in my current research using fruit fly genetics as a tool to look at synaptic function.
The research that I do is basic science: which means that instead of working on curing a particular disease like Alzheimer's, I am working to understand the basic biological processes that go on in all of our neurons. That isn't to say that my work doesn't have relevance for diseases. In fact, problems with synaptic function are known to contribute to almost every known neurological disease from epilepsy to Parkinson's to schizophrenia. I believe that we need a much more complete understanding of the basic biological processes in order to know how healthy as well us unhealthy brains function and to provide more intelligent treatments.
I'm going to steal Jonathan's idea and post a couple of interesting articles. The first is from Scientific American and it shows how modern brain imaging equipment can be used first to watch brain activity and the coordination of different brain areas as a subject (in this case a monkey) makes a decision. Then, after the task becomes familiar, the imaging is used to see how the pattern of brain activity is different than it was when the subject was first learning the task.
The second article discusses a rare neurological phenomenon called synesthesia, when sensory input from one of the senses (such as vision) activates the area of the brain that normally processes information from a different sense. In this case visual input activates the auditory region of the brain, so people with this experience "hearing" a visual stimulus. Only in the last few years has it even become accepted that this actually happens and it's not just people speaking metaphorically. I think the most interesting thing about this is that essentially no one has the first clue how this is happening or what goes on genetically or developmentally to cause this.
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