As the first wave of genome projects reaches completion, researchers have begun to shift their attention from genome structure to gene function. Advancement in imaging and molecular tagging technology have created innnovative new ways to visualize gene expression patterns and to follow the course of protein interactions on site and in real time. It is possible that, in the near future, the field of neuroinformatics will use simulated models not only as an exploratory tool, but also as a basic framework to unveil complex causal relationships and to generate hypotheses for the operation of complex systems such as memory formation. With such developments, scientists would be able to, say, simulate the transmission of an olfactory signal in a fly's brain from the outermost receptors of sensory neurons in its antennae to the second-relay projection neurons and then to the third-relay Kenyon cells in its central brain. Ultimately, researchers hope to simulate complete decision-making processes within a virtual fly brain in response external odors. The first step to such a goal requires a comprehensive mapping of most, if not all, of the genes, proteins, and neuronal circuits involved in not only learning and memory, but also brain functions as a whole.
The research team at the National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) has developed a series of novel imaging tools, allowing an unprecedented 3D visualization of single-gene expression in single neurons within the Drosophila brain. We are building the first 3D Drosophila brain database of gene expression patterns at the molecular and circuitry level in regards to storage, retrieval and comparison. The established brain database will allow neuroscientists around the globe to access and examine the expression patterns of any gene during development or under various physiological conditions. This analysis can then be used to generate and test hypotheses for further understanding of how the brain works. At this moment, we are focusing on discovering where and how the various gene products collaborate when memory is formed, retrieved and washed away. We are also interested in using the fly model for its related genes and circuits to research human brain diseases and novel therapeutic drugs.
BRC is organized as an interdisciplinary research team. We integrate complementary fields of biology, engineering, photonics, and computer and information sciences from National Tsing Hua University (NTHU), National Yang Ming University (NYMU), National Chiao Tung University (NCTU), National Center for High-Performance Computing (NCHC), Academia Sinica, and National Health Research Institute (NHRI).