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Mapping the fruit-fly's 'smell' circuit wins Eppendorf/Science Prize

Young neurobiologists honored for research

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Washington, D.C. - Dr. Rachel Wilson has been awarded the 2007 International Grand Prize in Neurobiology by the journal Science and Eppendorf AG. She is being recognized for her insights into how the brain identifies an odor by decoding a pattern of impulses from a diverse population of receptor neurons.

"Our results reveal some unexpected complexities in the way odors are processed by the brain," said Wilson, a researcher at the Department of Neurobiology lab at Harvard Medical School.

In an essay that has won the 2007 Eppendorf and Science Prize in Neurobiology, Wilson describes how she and her colleagues have mapped the olfactory circuit in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster by combining genetic tools with measurements of neural activity in living flies. "Our experiments show that it is possible to deconstruct the function of neural networks in this tiny brain, using a combination of genetic methods and electrophysiological recordings," she said.

The Eppendorf and Science Prize in Neurobiology recognizes outstanding neurobiological research by a young scientist, as described in a 1,000-word essay based on research performed within the last three years. The grand prize winner receives $25,000 from Eppendorf, and the winner's essay will be published in the 26 October 2007 issue of the journal Science.

The winner and the finalist essay will be published at Science Online ( The winner and the finalist will be recognized at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in November in San Diego, California.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, USA, Rachel Wilson received her AB degree in chemistry from Harvard in 1996. She began her training as a neurophysiologist with Helmut Haas at Heinrich-Heine-Universität in Düsseldorf and continued as a graduate student with Roger Nicoll at the University of California, San Francisco. In her graduate work, she showed that endogenous cannabinoids act as retrograde messengers at hippocampal synapses. In 2001, she joined Gilles Laurent's lab at the California Institute of Technology as a postdoctoral fellow. There, in collaboration with another postdoctoral fellow, Glenn Turner, she developed methods for performing whole-cell recordings from neurons in the adult Drosophila brain in vivo. In 2004, she joined the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. Her laboratory uses small neural circuits to study fundamental principles of sensory processing.


Marianne Hafting Fyhn, for her essay, "The Grid Map in the Brain." She was born in Morehead City, North Carolina, USA, and grew up in Bergen, Norway. She did her undergraduate studies in biology at the Universities of Bergen, Oslo, and Tromsø before completing her Master's thesis at the University of Tromsø in 1999 with work in Arctic biology at Spitsbergen. In 2000, she started her graduate work in neurobiology at the Centre for the Biology of Memory under the supervision of May-Britt and Edvard Moser at The Norwegian University for Science and Technology, Trondheim. She performed in vivo recordings of spatially modulated neurons from the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex of freely behaving rats and discovered "grid cells," which are neurons in entorhinal cortex with a remarkable hexagonal activity pattern. Since receiving her Ph.D. in 2005, she has been a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for the Biology of Memory.


For the full text of essays by the finalists and for information about applying for next year's awards, see Science's Web site: (please note that the 2007 essays and new information will be accessible at this link beginning only on Thursday, 25 October 2007, at 5 p.m. U.S. ET).

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal Science ( AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, reaching 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The nonprofit AAAS ( is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!,, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.

Eppendorf AG, headquartered in Hamburg, Germany, is a biotech company which develops, produces and distributes systems for use in life-science research laboratories worldwide, employing more than 1,800 employees. In fiscal 2006, the company's sales revenues amounted to 314 million Euros, with earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) of 73.1 million Euros.

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