Howard Hughes Medical Institute 2010 Annual Report

When HHMI's Janelia Farm Research Campus opened in the fall of 2006, so opened a window of opportunity for exceptionally creative scientists attracted to the idea of cross-disciplinary collaboration on major questions. Since then, the scope of those questions has only broadened, and the resident talent pool continues to grow. Read More

In the past year, two Janelia Farm scientists who have been present since the beginning, Harald Hess and Vivek Jayaraman, were promoted to group leaders. Six new fellows-Davi Bock, Kristin Branson, Gwyneth Card, Philipp Keller, Eva Pastalkova, and Louis Scheffer-were recruited to head their own research groups. These eight individuals bring a range of expertise that includes biophysics, computer science, electrical engineering, and neuroscience. They were recruited from some of the top research labs in the United States and abroad, some immediately after completing their doctoral degrees, others at more established stages of their careers. With the new appointments, 18 group leaders and 15 fellows now direct laboratories at Janelia Farm.

Scientists at Janelia are members of small teams that work together to address two broad scientific goals: discovering the basic rules and mechanisms of the brain's information-processing systems and developing biological and computational techniques for creating and interpreting biological images.

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Bock, a neuroscientist with a background in computer programming, is mapping how circuits in the brain transform information. To aid in mapping the fine anatomical connections between neurons, Bock will build a powerful electron microscope that will automatically generate terabytes of high-resolution image data. He will collaborate with other Janelia scientists to supply maps of the physical, anatomical connections that determine how the brain's circuits control behaviors-such as a mouse sensing its environment through its whiskers.

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Branson's research in computer science is aimed at creating powerful tools to help biologists characterize the behavior of genetic model organisms. Her computational tools will help researchers collect data on key behaviors in large numbers of flies and connect them to particular neuronal circuits and genetic pathways. At Janelia Farm, Branson will also develop programs that will direct a computer to identify behaviors that biologists have not yet discovered-a process known as unsupervised learning.

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Card is a bioengineer trying to learn how the brain makes decisions and then translates those decisions into action. By combining genetics and electrophysiology with detailed behavioral analyses, she hopes to unravel how the fruit fly decides which maneuvers to make while taking off in flight.

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Hess, an experimental physicist and the former director of Janelia Farm's Applied Physics and Instrumentation Group, is interested in developing novel methods for both optical and electron microscopy. The PALM imaging system he developed is the highest resolution 3D optical microscopy imaging technique available for use with biological specimens.

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Jayaraman, a former aerospace engineer turned neuroscientist, has an interest in understanding how information from different senses is represented and integrated by ensembles of neurons in the brain. As a fellow at Janelia Farm, he and his lab developed novel methods to record the activity of nerve cells deep in the brains of active fruit flies to understand how neural circuitry processes sensory information and determines the choices the fly makes.

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Keller is working at the interface of biology, physics, and computer science to study the principles that underlie the development of an animal's body plan. To examine the embryonic and neural development of fruit flies and zebrafish, Keller plans to build a new light sheet–based microscope at Janelia Farm to reconstruct cell behavior in entire embryos.

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Pastalkova, a neuroscientist, focuses on how the brain-and in particular, the region known as the hippocampus-stores and recalls memories about places and events. When an animal performs a task that requires it to remember past events, the hippocampus generates a specific pattern of activity. Pastalkova studies the mechanisms behind those patterns at Janelia Farm. She is also investigating how an animal's vital signs-such as breathing rate, heart rate, skin conductivity, and muscle tension-relate to its emotional states throughout a normal day. That work could eventually allow her to correlate individual emotions with specific patterns of brain activity.

Head Name

Neuroscientists want to map the flow of electrical signals in the brain to understand how it, for example, turns signals from the eyes into images or instructs arms and legs to move. Scheffer, an electrical engineer, is trying to develop software to recognize different types of neurons and the axons and dendrites extending from them. His aim is to map all the neurons in the fly brain in the next five years.

Artist's Representation

DIADEM Challenge Yields Big Win for Neuroscience

The Fruits of DIADEM

Teams of scientists competed to see whose algorithms could best trace the complex, branching shapes of neurons.

Computing Cluster Attains Superpower Status

Janelia Farm’s New Superpower

Janelia Farm’s computing cluster received a critical upgrade this year—from powerful to state of the art.

Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Explore the work of HHMI scientists through an interactive feature that highlights some of their notable discoveries in 2010.

Deducing Blueprints From Design

Deducing Blueprints From Design

Understanding the nervous systems of even the simplest model organisms requires sophisticated tools.

Photo Credit: Keller: Marietta Schupp  Branson: Matthew Staley  Card: Matthew Staley  Pastalkova: Pascale Quilichini  Cui: Matthew Staley  Hantman: Tami Prince  Ji: Courtesy of Na Ji  Bock: Davi Bock