Insect pheromone research wins Eppendorf/Science prize

11/01/05

Young neurobiologists honored

Washington, D.C. Dr. Pingxi Xu has been awarded the 2005 international Prize in Neurobiology by the journal Science and Eppendorf. He is being recognized for his new insights on how insects "smell" using pheromone signaling. This research could lead the way to new approaches to control pests that spread human diseases and cause agriculture losses.

The Eppendorf and Science Prize in Neurobiology recognizes outstanding neurobiological research by a young scientist, as described in a 1,000 word essay based on research performed within the last three years. The grand prize winner receives $25,000 from Eppendorf, and the winner's essay will be published in the 04 November 2005 issue of Science.

Three finalist essays will be published at Science Online (http://www.scienceonline.org). The winner as well as the finalists will be recognized at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in November in Washington, DC.

Pingxi Xu left a career as a pediatrician to study basic science. Although his focus has moved from babies to bugs, his goal remains essentially the same: to improve human health by preventing the occurrence and spread of disease.

Xu studies how fruit flies use chemical signals called pheromones to influence the behavior of other fruit flies. Devising ways to change insect behavior by manipulating pheromone-signaling systems could provide sustainable ways to control the insect pests that have a profound impact on human health and agriculture. Xu is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.

Xu has discovered that small proteins known as "odorant binding proteins" are required for pheromone signaling in fruit flies. Odorant binding proteins may function as adaptors that link pheromone molecules to neurons, according to Xu. A full understanding of the mechanisms of pheromone perception could help scientists manipulate insect behavior and develop sustainable methods of pest control. The toxicity of today's pesticides and the emergence of pesticide resistance limit their use, Xu writes.

Pingxi Xu was born and grew up in the northern province of Jiangsu, China. His first career was as a pediatrician, but after years of pediatric practice, Dr. Xu became interested in exploring basic science. He returned to university in Xian, China, and in 1988 earned a Master's degree in biochemistry and in 1999 a Ph.D. in neurobiology. In 2000 he joined Dr. Dean Smith's lab at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. Here he has worked to understand the molecular basis of pheromone signaling in Drosophila. Dr. Xu's goal is to apply this knowledge to control mosquito breeding by interrupting their perception of pheromones.

The Finalists Are:

Justin Blau, for his essay "How Flies Time: Circadian Clocks in Drosophila." Dr. Blau was born and raised in London, England. He received his undergraduate degree from Cambridge University in 1991, and his Ph.D. from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, where he studied basic mechanisms of eukaryotic transcription with David Bentley. After graduating in 1996, he joined Mike Young's lab at The Rockefeller University in New York to study how clock genes drive daily (circadian) rhythms of behavior in Drosophila. Dr. Blau started his own lab at New York University in 2000, where he continues to investigate how genes and neurons interact to drive this fundamental behavior.

Paul Frankland, for his essay "Networking to Remember: The Cortex and Remote Memory." Dr. Frankland grew up in Folkestone, England. He studied psychology at the University of Sheffield and completed his Ph.D. work in neuroscience in the lab of Dr. John Yeomans at the University of Toronto. After graduating in 1996, he went on to conduct his postdoctoral work in the lab of Dr. Alcino Silva, first at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York and then at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). At UCLA he used genetically engineered mice to model normal cognitive function, as well as cognitive dysfunction associated with various inherited diseases. In 2003, he started his own lab at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. A focus in his lab is on understanding how enduring, or remote, memories are organized in the brain.

Johanna Montgomery, for her essay "Synapses in a State: A Molecular Mechanism to Encode Synaptic History and Future Synapse Function." Dr. Montgomery was born and raised in New Zealand. She graduated from The University of Otago in 1999 with a Ph.D. in Physiology. During her Ph.D. studies, Dr. Montgomery completed the Neurobiology Course at The Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. She began postdoctoral work in the laboratory of Dr. Daniel Madison at Stanford University, where she used paired whole-cell recording techniques to reveal distinct mechanisms of synapse plasticity. She then pursued further postdoctoral training with Dr. Craig Garner at Stanford University to examine the molecular aspects of synapse function. Last year, Dr. Montgomery returned to New Zealand to establish the Synaptic Function Research Group at The University of Auckland, where she is focusing on the molecular and physiological mechanisms of synapse function and plasticity.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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