Princeton University
Department of Molecular Biology


The Acoustic Brain: Solving the Mysteries of How we Hear, Perceive and Communicate

Thu, Nov 14, 2013
Location - TBA


murthy_picMALA MURTHY
Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology and Princeton Neuroscience Institute


On a cool, crisp November evening, over 700 secondary school students and teachers gathered in Richardson Auditorium to hear Professor Mala Murthy talk about "The Acoustic Brain: Solving the Mysteries of How We Hear, Perceive, and Communicate". Mala first posed the question "What is hearing?" Hearing is the detection of sound. Perception involves how the brain processes the sound. Communication is what we use sound for at the behavioral level. In reality it is all about the brain. Sensory stimuli impact the brain leading to behavior. The humble fruit fly provides a powerful system for doing neuroscience research. Human brains have about 100 billion neurons while Drosophila brains have only 100,000. The genetics of both are shared through evolution and information learned using the simpler Drosophila model system can be applied to learning about the human brain. Professor Murthy shared male courtship songs of the Zebra Finch, Tungara Frog and cricket and explained how they evolved and how the female responds. In Drosophila, the male vibrates its wing to make sound in order to attract the female. Different species of Drosophila each have a unique song. To determine how the female brain perceives that sound, live flies are tethered and their brain exposed. In vivo individual neuron recordings are made while songs are played. In vertebrates the basilar membrane of the cochlea resonates at different frequencies. The hair cells inside the cochlea move and open ion channels, which convert the auditory stimulus into electrical impulses. The fly ear, in contrast, comprises a feathery appendage attached to the antenna. When sound waves move the feather, neurons are pulled which open ion channels. To learn more and hear an example of a courtship song see: BREAKING GROUND: New buzz about auditory perception in the Princeton Alumni Weekly 


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Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Princeton Center for Quantitative Biology