Dr. Peter Robin Hiesinger did his undergraduate and graduate studies in genetics, computational biology and philosophy at the University of Freiburg in Germany. He then did his postdoc at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas and was Assistant Professor and Associate Professor with tenure for more than 8 years at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. After 15 years in Texas and a life with no fast food, no TV, no gun and no right to vote, he is currently bewildered by his new home in Berlin, where he heads the Division of Neurobiology of the Institute of Biology at the Freie Universität Berlin since March 2015. His research focuses on the question: How do a few thousand genes determine the unique neuronal properties that underlie the development, function and maintenance of the brain?
The role of intrinsically noisy brain development for reduced penetrance in Drosophila
Genetically identical brains are not identical. The probabilities for neurodevelopmental disorders like autism or schizophrenia to occur equally in two monozygotic twins is around 50-70%. The cause of this reduced penetrance is most commonly thought to reflect the impact of non-genetic, environmental influences on brain development. Additionally, or alternatively, genetically encoded brain development is noisy, leading to variable brain wiring independent of environmental influences. We use the genetic model Drosophila to test this hypothesis and understand the fundamental influence of intrinsically stochastic developmental processes on brain wiring. Most of Drosophila brain development is considered ‘hard-wired’, i.e. genetically encoded. Yet, many developmental processes and outcomes are variable. We pinpoint and characterize intrinsically stochastic developmental processes, e.g. axon filopodial dynamics, and relate their effect on the flexibility, robustness and reduced penetrance of phenotypic outcomes in brain development.