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Yali V. Zhang, Ph.D.
Exploring How Animals Detect the Food Environment
Neuroscience Research Institute
University of California, Santa Barbara
2 Riverside Circle, Roanoke, VA 24016
In order to survive and flourish in the world, both vertebrates and invertebrates need to acquire sophisticated feeding behaviors to effectively locate and discriminate foods. As such, a fundamental question arises as to how animals sense the complex food environment to produce feeding behaviors. To tackle this question, Dr. Zhang uses model organisms such as fruit flies and mice to investigate how the chemical features of food – food tastes, including sweetness, bitterness, and saltiness, as well as the physical properties of food such as food texture – influence feeding behaviors. Since the peripheral and central neural mechanisms regulating the food preference is highly conversed between insects and mammals, the molecular insights obtained from Dr. Zhang’s studies in flies and mice will assist the understanding of the molecular and neural underpinnings of human feeding behaviors.