InvestigatorTristan Darland, Ph.D.

Location:  Department of Biology, University of North Dakota

Project Title:  Genetic and epigenetic modulation of classic conditioning in zebra fish

Description:  Zebrafish is currently the only vertebrate model organism amenable to forward genetics, in which mutagenesis, extensive screening for various phenotypes and genetic analysis are used to identify novel genes, or novel functions for known genes in biological processes of interest.  I have two main projects in my developing research program, both involve characterizing mutations generated in zebrafish.  The first set of mutants has defects in the ability to generate new neurons in the peripheral retina (Link BA and Darland T 2001 Progress in Brain Research 131: 565-577).  These defects may represent genes important in adult neurogenesis that is prevalent in fish, but only limited in mammals.  The second set of mutants display deviant behavioral responsiveness to cocaine, in short the drug has abnormal the addictive potential in these fish (Darland T and Dowling JE 2001, PNAS USA 98(20) 11691-6).  I am currently trying to identify the defective genes in these two sets of mutants and trying to understand their cellular context.  While genetic means have been used to map the mutations, I would like to employ proteomic and microarray methods to complement genetic approaches in identifying the defective genes. I am also interested in developing new addiction related behavioral tests to serve as screening tools for additional genetic studies.  Finally, in collaboration with Dr. Dane Crossley, I have begun examining cardiac function of zebrafish to examine the impact of genetics, drugs and environmental conditions on basic physiology.   My long-term goal is to find novel genes and molecular pathways linked to retinal neural stem cell regulation and response to cocaine.
I employ a multidisciplinary approach to the projects in my lab ranging from molecular characterization to analysis of complex behavior.  Undergraduates will learn a wide variety of molecular techniques including PCR, molecular cloning, in situ hybridization, western blotting and immunohistochemistry.  Students may also perform experiments that provide technical training in physiology and behavioral neuroscience.  Perhaps the most valuable training in my lab comes from working with the zebrafish model system itself, which provides a living laboratory for embryonic development, neuroanatomy, physiology, behavioral neuroscience and genetics.