- Huey Hing Ph.D.
- Associate Professor
- email: email@example.com
- Lennon Hall, Room 204B, Tel: 395-2045, 395-5742
- Hing Lab Homepage
My lab is interested in how the sense of smell develops and how chemicals (pheromones) emitted by members of one sex regulate the sexual behaviors (courtship and mating behaviors) of the opposite sex. To study these phenomena, we examine mutants which have abnormal smell preferences or which showed unusual behaviors such as homosexuality or bisexuality.
Our sense of smell plays an important role in our lives. It allows us to appreciate the aromas of food and avoid malodorous substances. Thus, our smell sense plays a key role in keepng us alive. In addition, our smell sense helps us form memories that last a lifetime (e.g. see Marcel Proust). Anove all, in many animal species, the sense of smell is critical for finding a sexual partner. Animals (including ourselves) smell with special neurons (olfactory neurons) located in their nasal cavities. Odorous molecules in the air impinge on the surface of these neurons leading to the firing of action potentials. The action potentials are then transmitted to spherical structures, the glomeruli. Activation of specific subsets of the glomeruli informs the brain what we are smelling.
Our current research can be divided into two broad areas. Our first area of research focuses on how the organ of smell develops. This is important because its anatomy likely determines our odor preferences (e.g. flowers smell good, rotten eggs smell bad). Moreover, since all people find flowers pleasing, and rotten eggs offensive, it is likely that genes direct the wiring of our smell organ. We believe that the genes regulate two phenomena, axon guidance and glomerulus development. Our goal is to identify these genes and understand how they direct the development of the olfactory system. To this end we study the fruit fly and have identified mutants that have abnormal smell preference, or have aberrant olfactory organs. Studying these mutants will shed light on how genes direct olfactory organ development.
Our second area of research focuses on how smell controls sexual behaviors, particularly courtship and mating behaviors. Most animals (including ourselves) engage in courtship before mating. Courtship allows the male to display his ability (e.g. through song or dance) and the female to assess his quality. Interestingly, in many species, both behaviors (courtship and mating) are activated by sex pheromones. Sex pheromones have very specific actions: a particular pheromone elicits only one specific behavior. The mechanisms by which sex pheromones trigger different hardwired behaviors are unknown. Our goal is to dissect the mechanism by which sex pheromones govern sexual behaviors. To this end, we study the fruit fly, which have a set of hardwired courtship and mating behaviors (movie). For example, male flies are attracted to females and avoid other males. We have recently recovered a mutant that exhibit unusual homosexual behaviors. Studying the mutant will reveal how pheromones govern behaviors in animals. For more details of our research, please visit the Hing lab homepage.