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PhD University of California, San Diego
Assistant Professor

Email: jsemmelhack@ust.hk


Research Interests

Although vision is probably the best-studied sensory modality, the cellular-level mechanisms that implement visual computations remain relatively unknown. The larval zebrafish visual system, with its genetic tools, optical accessibility, and homology to the mammalian visual system, is an ideal model in which to study these questions. Zebrafish larvae exhibit multiple robust visually evoked behaviors, such as prey capture and escape, allowing us to link visual circuits to specific motor outputs. In order for a larva to execute a prey capture or escape response, the pattern of photons falling on the retina must be classified as a particular type of stimulus, and the brain must generate a spatially appropriate response, e.g. toward or away from the stimulus. The goal of my research is to understand how neurons at various levels of the visual system represent the key features of the stimulus, and how this information is read out and transformed into a motor command. My approach combines quantitative analysis of behavior, functional imaging, single cell neuroanatomy, and genetic and optical manipulations of neural activity to follow these behavioral circuits through the larval zebrafish brain.

Representative Publications

  1. Temizer, I., Donovan, J. C., Baier, H., and Semmelhack, J.L. A visual pathway for looming-evoked escape in larval zebrafish. Curr. Biol. 25, 1823-1834 (2015).

  2. Semmelhack, J.L., Donovan, J.C., Thiele, T.R., Kuehn, E., Laurell, E., and Baier, H. A dedicated visual pathway for prey detection in larval zebrafish. eLife 3, e04878 (2014).

  3. Semmelhack, J.L., and Wang, J.W. Select Drosophila glomeruli mediate innate olfactory attraction and aversion. Nature. 459, 218-224 (2009).

  4. Root, C.M.*, Semmelhack, J.L.*, and Wang, J.W. Propagation of olfactory information in Drosophila. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 104, 11826-11831 (2007). *equal contribution

  5. Taga, M.E., Semmelhack, J.L., and Bassler B.L. The LuxS-dependent autoinducer AI-2 controls the expression of an ABC transporter that functions in AI-2 uptake in Salmonella typhimurium. Mol. Microbiol. 42, 777-793 (2001).

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