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2021 Allen Distinguished Investigator award

The Allen Distinguished Investigator program provides three-year grants between $1M and $1.5M to individuals and teams

Reconstructing the development and functional architecture of the motor neural circuits of the last common animal ancestor

Where did modern nervous systems come from? Joseph Ryan, Ph.D., Mark Martindale, Ph.D., and James Strother, Ph.D., are leading a project to analyze and understand the nervous systems of ctenophores. Also known as comb jellies, these marine animals were the first animal group to branch off from the rest of animals and therefore are key to understanding the nervous systems of the earliest animals. The team will study the net-like nervous system of the ctenophore known as the sea walnut, which is native to the coastal Atlantic, both in the animal’s early development as neurons first arise and by mapping neural circuits in the adult animal that are important for movement and for interpreting sensory input. A better understanding of the nervous systems of ctenophores will shed light both on the sensory capabilities of the earliest animals as well as provide insights into general principles of animal nervous systems (including humans). The team’s work will also yield public data and resources for the broader scientific community.

Joseph Ryan headshot

Joseph F. Ryan, Ph.D.

University of Florida
Mark Martindale Headshot

Mark Q. Martindale, Ph.D.

University of Florida
James Strother headshot

James Strother, Ph.D.

University of Florida

This project is part of the 2021 Neural Circuit Design cohort

Researchers in the Neural Circuit Design cohort are studying evolutionary principles in the brain circuits that control movement, focusing on animals and systems that are not traditionally studied in the laboratory. Their studies will flesh out a more complete picture of the diversity of nervous systems and motor neural circuits in the animal kingdom, as well as pinpointing common and conserved principles of motion and motor control.