I am a Professor of Sensory Biology and Biophysics who is studying the ears of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) and disease transmitting mosquitoes (e.g. the malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae) to understand the molecular and mechanistic bases of their sense of hearing and corresponding auditory behaviours.
Research in my lab is dedicated to hearing in Dipteran insects (fruit flies, mosquitoes), from its most early stages, i.e. process of mechanosensory transduction to its role in the sensory ecology of the animals. Generally, sensory transduction describes the elementary conversion of an external stimulus into an internal electrical response. In the specific case of the mechanical senses this transduction is direct, with the stimulus (e.g. a sound-induced vibration) directly opening a transducer channel in the membrane of a mechanosensory cell. In marked contrast to the striking simplicity of this mode of activation, the search for the actual molecules that mediate, or contribute to, mechanotransduction has proven surprisingly difficult. This lack of molecular knowledge stands in stark contrast to a rather intimate understanding of the biophysical mechanisms underlying transducer activation.
Hearing in Drosophila relies on the very same biophysical principles as does hearing in vertebrates (like frogs and mice and men). Given its enormous genetic and experimental tractability, the fruit fly has thereby entered the race for the molecular dissection of hearing. By exploiting the fruitful interplay of experimental and theoretical approaches we are trying to eventually assign specific functions to distinct molecules within the auditory transduction chain.
Moreover, the essential nonlinearities that are introduced into the auditory system by the way mechanotransducers operate, have important consequences for the acoustic ecology of both mosquitoes and fruit flies. We are making an effort to understand these consequences and translate this understanding to novel ways to fight human hearing loss ….or to help build novel hearing aids, or to control populations of disease-transmitting mosquitoes.