Our long-term goal is to elucidate mechanisms used for signal transduction and information processing in sensory systems, and to understand how the senses create an internal representation of the outside world. 

The Biology of Mammalian Taste

We use the taste system as a model for our studies (chemosensation) as it provides a powerful platform to dissect the processing of sensory information, from detection at the periphery to perception in the brain.  In addition, the sense of taste is exquisitely modulated by the internal state of the organism (hunger, satiety, expectation, emotion, etc.), and thus it serves as a rich model to explore multisensory integration.

Our research of the past few years has focused on identifying the receptors and cells for sweet, umami, bitter, sour, salty and carbonation, and in the process, defining the logic of taste coding at the periphery.  Currently, we are continuing our work on the periphery, but in addition we are moving our research into the brain to investigate how information from the tongue is mapped, decoded, and transformed in the various brain taste centers.

Sensory Signaling and Processing in Drosophila

Temperature affects nearly every biological process, hence it is not surprising that animals evolved sophisticated ways to sense and respond to temperature changes. How are hot and cold stimuli detected at the periphery? How are they processed in the brain? How are they integrated to produce behaviors such as temperature preference or avoidance of noxious extremes? We study the logic of temperature coding using the fruitfly Drosophila, a system ideally suited for a comprehensive genetic and molecular dissection of complex circuits and behaviors.

Spatial Learning

In addition to being a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a faculty member in the Columbia University Biochemistry and Neuroscience departments, Dr. Zuker is a Senior Fellow at the Janelia Farm Research Campus and oversees a small group there that works on imaging and behavior.

Through a collaborative project with Michael Reiser, we are studying the place learning capabilities of the fruit fly.  While many insects use visual landmarks to precisely locate their nest, prey, or foraging area, the extent to which flies use vision to navigate and remember specific locations has been unclear.  Using a novel drosophila place learning assay and the molecular/genetic tools available in the fruit fly, we are exploring visually guided navigation in an effort to better understand how an animal knows where it is, and where it is going. 

Columbia Biochemistry

Columbia Neuroscience

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Janelia Farm Research Campus