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Natural Sciences Seminar: Understanding how the brain generates and modifies behavior
Friday, November 30, 2018,2:30 pm - 4:00 pm EST
Dr. Erik Zornik, assistant professor of biology at Reed College, will discuss his work. A prominent feature of most animals is their capacity to produce complex movements that are vital for survival and reproduction. Zebras must run to escape a predatory lion. Birds sing to attract a suitable mate. How are these behaviors generated? In order to answer this question, we must understand the skeletal framework that supports movements, the muscles that generate the forces needed to move limbs, and the nervous system that orchestrates the precise temporal patterns of muscle activation.Dr. Zornik’s research focuses on the brain’s role in behavioral production. Many motor behaviors are generated by circuits in the brain called central pattern generators (CPGs).
Dr. Zornik’s group studies the vocal CPG of African clawed frogs, Xenopus, as a means of identifying fundamental principles that govern motor production. We investigate the production and modification of vocal behavioral over a wide range of time scales: from millisecond accuracy of motor neuron firing, to developmental changes across an individual’s lifetime, to changes that occur over millions of years during evolution. By comparing brain differences across time and individuals, we aim to discover physiological and genetic mechanisms that underlie the production and evolution of novel behaviors.