Two scientists at Kennesaw State University have been awarded grants to continue their cutting-edge research and developmental biology, research that could have far-reaching applications.

The grant money, totaling $737,364, is to be divided between neuroscientist Martin Hudson and biologist Marcus C. Davis.

Hudson, an associate professor of biology, will receive $378,561 from the National Institutes of Health for his study of the impact of neuron shape on the nervous system. The bulk of the money will go toward boosting the lab’s microscopes for optogenetics.

Optogenetics is a relatively new biological technique which uses light to control cells in living tissue — in this case, neurons. Researchers use different wavelengths of light to activate specific neurons and see not only how they respond, but also the responses of the neurons around them.

These experiments are being conducted on a transparent, non-parasitic roundworm called Caenorhabditis elegans. This animal is an ideal subject for research because its nervous system is similar to that of humans, but on a much simpler scale.

“This is specifically to look at how a pair of cells communicate,” Hudson said. “So when one receives an input, does it immediately share that input with its neighbor or is there some kind of gateway to that? Is it only shared if the input exceeds a certain threshold?”

Selectively activating neurons through optogenetics allows researchers to look at that particular cell and the one they believe it’s communicating with. They can then go in and control when and whether that cell shoots off information. Hudson is also interested in what causes neurons to change shape, the effect neuron shape has on how it makes synapses and whether it causes a change in an organism’s behavior.

Through his research, Hudson hopes to gain a better understanding of how neurons work, which can be applied to diagnosing and, perhaps someday, treating neurological disorders in humans.

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