Research in my lab is dedicated to hearing in Dipteran insects such as fruit flies and mosquitoes. We look at hearing from its earliest stages, known as mechanosensory transduction, to its role in the sensory ecology of the animals.
Generally, sensory transduction describes the elementary conversion of an external stimulus into an internal electrical response. In the specific case of the mechanical senses this transduction is direct, with the stimulus, a sound induced vibration for example, directly opening a transducer channel in the membrane of a mechanosensory cell.
In marked contrast to the striking simplicity of this mode of activation, the search for the actual molecules that mediate, or contribute to, mechanotransduction has proven surprisingly difficult. This lack of molecular knowledge stands in stark contrast to a rather intimate understanding of the biophysical mechanisms underlying transducer activation. Hearing in fruit files relies on the very same biophysical principles as does hearing in vertebrates such as frogs, mice, and even us humans.
Given how conducive they are to genetic experiments, fruit flies have thereby entered the race for the molecular dissection of hearing. By exploiting the fruitful interplay of experimental and theoretical approaches we are trying to eventually assign specific functions to distinct molecules within the auditory transduction chain. Moreover, the essential nonlinearities that are introduced into the auditory system by the way mechanotransducers operate have important consequences for the acoustic ecology of both mosquitoes and fruit flies.
We are making an effort to understand these consequences and translate this understanding to a variety of applications such as finding novel ways to fight human hearing loss, helping build novel hearing aids, or even controlling populations of disease-transmitting mosquitoes.