Richard Axel, the pioneering Columbia University biochemist, will deliver the first of this academic year's prestigious University Lectures on Monday, December 9, on the genetic basis of smell, our primal sense.
Beginning at 8 P.M. in the Rotunda of Low Memorial Library, Professor Axel will describe his search for the mechanisms that organisms have evolved to recognize olfactory information in the environment, transmit it to the brain and respond to it. The lecture is free and open to the public.
"How do we recognize and discriminate among the diverse array of molecules that we define as odorants?" he asks. "How does the perception of specific odors lead to appropriate thoughts, memories and behaviors?"
As molecular biologists studying perception, Dr. Axel and his Columbia colleagues are finding answers at the level of genes and proteins. They have isolated genes in olfactory receptors in the nose and gained surprising insights into the way genes enable the brain to distinguish odor quality.
His address is titled "Towards a Molecular Biology of Perception."
Dr. Axel is the Higgins Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and professor of pathology in the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia and an investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute there. In early work he developed gene transfer techniques that permit the introduction of virtually any gene into any cell. Later experiments with a marine snail showed how diverse behavioral patterns may be encoded in genetic material and passed from parent to offspring.