Dr. Leonid Moroz, Distinguished Professor at the Whitney Laboratory and McKnight Brain Institute receives prestigious INSPIRE grant
“INSPIRE: Deciphering the Genealogy of Neurons via Planetary Biodiversity Capture” is part of the president’s Brain initiative through National Science Foundation.
This research initiative led by Dr. Moroz is highly interdisciplinary and will marry Biodiversity and Neuroscience with extensive use of genomic tools. The project is jointly funded by the Organization Program in the Neural Systems Cluster (Integrative and Organism Biology), the Systematics and Biodiversity Science Cluster (in the Division of Environmental Biology), and by the Biological Oceanography Program in the Division of Ocean Sciences in the Geosciences Directorate, the Office of International Science and Engineering, and the Office of Integrative Activities.
Why there is such an enormous diversity of neurons in our brains is the least understood and one of the most challenging problems in modern biology. Two factors contribute to this diversity. One is that different neurons have different functions, and the other, is that different neurons have different evolutionary histories. However, neither evolutionary history nor classification of neuronal types is established. The goal of this project is to reconstruct the genealogy of neurons and develop an unbiased classification of neurons in the majority of animal groups. This will provide a way to predict the properties of neurons and their connections. A novel approach to determine the kinds of molecules that are expressed in different neurons will be developed. To gain access to critically important organisms, Prof. Leonid L. Moroz will organize worldwide voyages on research vessels to collect marine animals that represent all major types of neuronal organization. Various distinct neuronal populations across species will be collected and analyzed with novel computational and mathematical tools. The work will create a new field of NeuroSystematics. The team will develop and test a novel approach for distant training of undergraduate and graduate students to perform real-time analyses at any world location using mobile labs. The project will involve research collaborations with over 150 investigators from universities from many countries and will provide opportunities for international and underrepresented minority students to be involved in biodiversity research in remote oceanic laboratories. The project will also provide priceless resources and reference databases for several disciplines.
The research strategy is based upon the development of a mobile version of a capture technology designed for massive transcriptome analysis of entire nervous systems at single-cell resolution. The focus will be on animal lineages never investigated before, including phoronids, brachiopods, xenoturbellids, and rare and fragile larvae. The team will integrate computational tools to decipher relationships among major animal lineages and the neuroscience questions will be integrated with the functional and ecological constraints that underlie the formation of new behaviors.