A bright future for the tree shrew in neuroscience research

I’m a post-doc at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, working with David Fitzpatrick on the tree shrew visual system.

I want to understand how the visual system becomes perfectly suited to an animal’s specific visual experience. A lot of factors influence visual experience across an animal’s life-time, like the structure of the retina, the environment, and how the animal moves around in its environment. I’ve studied the visual system of mice, cats, and tree shrews, trying to determine how neural connections transform visual inputs. More recently, I’ve started to think about how these transformations are shaped by, and shape, an animal’s specific movement patterns.

I think the most clever, and interesting, path towards understanding the brain includes multiple animals, and leveraging the quirks each one comes with. Over the past couple of years, I’ve worked on establishing the tree shrew as a model of the extrastriate visual system. I found a unique map of the retina in the secondary visual cortex (V2) of tree shrews that overturned a lot of working assumptions about cortical representations of ego-centric visual space. This data helped to make sense of similar strange-looking patterns in ferrets and squirrels and setup some exciting guesses for primates.