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Canaries in the coal mine: how birds reveal deep links between genome, brain and behaviour

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Join us for the Inaugural Lecture of Professor David Clayton, Professor of Neuroscience

Tuesday 25 October 2016, 6.30pm
Skeel Lecture Theatre, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS

Lecture synopsis

Birds provide a special window into our environment and our biology. Embedded in the world around us, they display rich observable behaviours which can serve as object lessons for principles of learning, communication, social organization, and adaptation to environmental change. In neuroscience, study of birds has produced striking insights into the structural plasticity of brain circuits controlling behaviour, and more recently into the dynamic role of the genome in brain function.  In songbirds, different “neurogenomic states” (patterns of brain gene expression) are elicited by different experiences and environmental contexts, suggesting a role in cognition. For example, shifts in neurogenomic state occur when birds communicate through birdsong. For birds that normally live in social groups, the experience of being all alone elicits yet another neurogenomic state.  In each of these examples, the genes involved have clear orthologues in humans, though it is impossible to study gene activity directly in the brains of humans. Studying birds will help us to understand the deep mechanisms that link social experience, brain gene activity and adaptive behaviour.
The lecture will be followed by a networking drinks reception.

Meet our Professor

David F. Clayton is Professor of Neuroscience at Queen Mary University of London, in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences. His research focuses on how brain and genome interact, and he uses songbirds as an animal model with particular relevance to human vocal communication, social learning and cognitive development.  His approach is multidisciplinary and collaborative, as he seeks to understand the neurobiological mechanisms that promote or constrain successful adaptations to life experience. His work has been cited more than 10,000 times and continues to have influence over a wide range of fields, and has been featured in the popular press as well (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BBC News, among others). Clayton obtained his PhD from Rockefeller University (New York City) in 1985 and spent 20 years at the University of Illinois (USA), before moving to Queen Mary in 2012 to lead the new Department of Biological and Experimental Psychology. He is a Senior Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR, Child & Brain Development), and has been elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (USA) and of the Royal Society of Biology (UK), among other activities and honours

Attendance is free of charge but you must book in advance: www.canariesinacoalmine.eventbrite.co.uk

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