Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 12th Oct 2014

Matt Jones - From genes to brains

Matt Jones, University of Bristol

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Kat - On the 27th and 28th of November, top genetics researchers from the UK and around the world will gather at the Royal Society in London for the Genetics Society’s autumn meeting, entitled “Genetic Approaches to Study the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory”. I spoke to co-organiser Dr Matt Jones from Bristol University to get a flavour of what we can expect.

Matt -  Genetics and neurobiology are intertwined on so many levels and across so many timescales that this was a great opportunity to really emphasise how closely linked the fields are.  In particular, to emphasise how technology that allows us to manipulate genetics is informing our understanding of the neurobiology of learning and memory.  And we also wanted to focus a little bit on uniting the efforts of scientists who work in model organisms like Drosophila, the fruit fly, which are famous for being very genetically attractable, and the other extreme, people who work on mammalian systems, in rodents and in humans.  And really, take the opportunity for the two parallel methodologies to inform each other explicitly because often, those researchers do move in parallel and that’s a shame.  We’re not taking advantage of each other as well as we should.  

I guess it’s particularly timely in light of this year’s Nobel Prize of Physiology and Medicine which was awarded for work, understanding in large part, the nature of spatial memory encoding in the brain.  And there’ll be some good examples of talks that relates genes and gene function and use of genetic technology to that spatial navigation system in the brain.  So, that Nobel Prize does a good job of advertising the importance of this meeting.

Kat -  Are there any particular talks you're really excited about or techniques you're really keen to hear about?

Matt -  So, a good example is the reward system.  A lot of our memories are stored because they relate to important or exciting events in our lives and that raises a lot of questions about what's in the brain that takes these events as important or exciting.  There's been some great work done in Drosophila dissecting apart their system using optogenetics for example.  So, a technique that allows you to control neuronal activity with light which is easily applied in Drosophila because they're small and some are translucent depending on their life stage.  But there are people beginning to apply these technologies in mammals now as well.  So, the speakers span the globe.  Some from the US, some from Europe, some from Japan are really the forefront of driving forward these techniques and understanding of learning and memory.

Kat -  If anyone is listening to this and thinks, “Yup!  I'm in this field or I'm really interested in this field.”  How can they come along to the meeting?  When and where is it and how can they get to come along?

Matt -  That’s the easy bit.  So, the meeting is at the Royal Society in London from the 27th to 28th of November.  You can head along to the genetics.org.uk website and register.  We’re particularly keen for younger, early career stage scientists to come along, hear from these flashy big wigs in the field and get the chance to chat with them directly, which can be really important in inspiring people in their future careers and experiments.

Kat - And if you’re keen to come along, head over to the Genetics Society website and register now. http://www.genetics.org.uk/Conferences/tabid/84/Filter/0%20GS/MeetingNo/GTS_AM2014/view/Conference/Default.aspx

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