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K-State Today

January 29, 2020

Zebrafish brain research wins $1.35M grant

Submitted by Thomas Mueller

Thomas Mueller, research assistant professor in the Division of Biology, and three collaborators from Germany, England and Israel, received a $1.35 million grant for the interdisciplinary research project "Navigating the Waters — A Neural Systems Approach to Spatial Cognition in Fish."

The prestigious Human Frontier Science Program grant promotes international collaborations with complementary expertise and multi-perspective approaches. Mueller is working with labs at the University of Bielefeld, Oxford University and Ben-Gurion University. 

Mueller, an expert in comparative neuroscience of fishes, will examine how smell and taste contribute to spatial navigation in four fish species with differing navigational strategies: elephantnose fish famous for their ability to generate electric fields for navigation; goldfish and catfish known for their elaborate smell and taste systems; and zebrafish, a genetic model organism that offers mutant and transgenic lines critical for studies of brain function. The comparative approach will elucidate how evolution shaped the structure and function of brain regions in these fascinating fishes to ultimately understand neural and behavioral mechanisms.

The successful grant application was supported by the COBRE Cognitive and Neurobiological Approaches to Plasticity, or CNAP, directed by Kimberly Kirkpatrick from the psychological sciences department.

"This grant is an excellent example of the core mission of CNAP," Kirkpatrick said. "We aim to help junior investigators develop competitive funding applications to enhance interdisciplinary neuroscience research at Kansas State University and provide new research training opportunities to graduate and undergraduate students."

As a current CNAP pilot grantee, Mueller collaborates with Stefan Bossmann, university distinguished professor of chemistry, and Punit Prakash, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, to develop Magnetic Resonance Imaging technologies for zebrafish in functional brain imaging and cancer biology.

The new HFSP-funded research project will generate synergisms and offer new opportunities for K-State's graduate and undergraduate students interested in cross-departmental neuroscience projects.