Lab Contact Information
Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building (SMBB), 4th Floor
36 South Wasatch Drive
Salt Lake City, UT 84112
Goal: to understand sensory encoding and brain processing of olfactory information.
We study how the nervous system encodes odor information, and how the brain processes this information. In other words, how does the brain identify smells? This is a tough problem because: (1) most smells are complex mixtures of different odor molecules; (2) the number of different smells that an animal must detect and identify is huge; and (3) the olfactory environment is highly varied over time and space. Our focus is on understanding how patterns of neural activity encode odor information and how this code changes as a result of neural processing.
Another major interest of the lab is to understand olfaction as an active sense in which the detection, encoding and processing of odor information is shaped by the animal's behavior at all levels of the nervous system. We use optical imaging as a primary tool to directly visualize neural activity as an animal smells an odor, and also to investigate how neurons process olfactory information using reduced preparations. We image activity in the earliest stages of the olfactory pathway - among olfactory receptor neurons, which detect odorants, and neurons in the olfactory bulb, the first stage of olfactory processing in the brain.
Matt Wachowiak, head of the Olfactory Systems Lab, received a 5-year, $1.58M grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders. The group will investigate how the brain sorts through and makes sense of the many odors surrounding us by following defined neural pathways that process odor information in the brain. An important tool for the job is genetically-encoded reporters that enable visualization of neural activity while an animal smells an odor. The work will provide insights into the neural basis for odor perception, odor-guided behavior, and general information processing.
The Olfactory Systems Laboratory currently has Postdoctoral positions immediately available for studying olfactory information processing using imaging, optogenetics and electrophysiology. The lab is housed in the Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building, a state-of-the-art USTAR innovation center designed to facilitate collaboration. Contact Principal Investigator Matt Wachowiak for more information.