Who am I?
I come to MBL from the University of Chicago where I am a Professor in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, on the Committees on Neurobiology and Computational Neuroscience and in the College and a member of the Neuroscience Institute. In addition to being an MBL Fellow, I am also a Dean for Faculty Affairs in the Biological Sciences Division. I received my B.S. from Duke University, and my Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. I also did a postdoctoral fellowship at SUNY Stony Brook and a Grass Fellowship at MBL before starting my faculty position in Chicago.
What do I do?
I am interested in how neural circuits and neuromechanical systems that drive movement are organized and evolve. Animals have evolved diverse neural control and biomechanical adaptations for moving effectively and efficiently in their physical environments. They offer a wealth of opportunities to investigate basic principles of structure and function as well as to probe morphological or physiological specializations. Such specializations provide examples of biological innovations that can make us think about the world in new ways and inspire design. We are also interested in the basic processes of nervous system evolution and, through phylogenetically grounded comparisons of simple circuits, we are examining the evolution of individual neurons and circuits across hundreds of millions of years of history.
Our main research system is locomotion in fishes. Fishes comprise around half of vertebrate species and are terrifically diverse as a group. In addition, the development of zebrafish as a genetic and neurobiological model system offers a wealth of experimental approaches that are breaking new ground every year. My lab focuses on two particular neuromechanical systems in fishes. First, the startle neural circuit and behavior provide an important, well-understood system, with well-characterized and easily identifiable neurons for exploring questions of circuit organization, function and evolution. Second, we work on sensory input from the fins and sensorimotor integration in locomotor systems. We found that the fins of fish have diverse mechanosensory capabilities and that sensory feedback from the fins modulates movement. This is of interest in a number of contexts. For example, we are now exploring the coevolution of mechanosensory and motor systems and are working with engineers to apply our understanding of fin mechanosensation in engineered propulsors for underwater robotics.
Why do I come to the MBL?
I come to MBL for the richness of the animal resources, both the marine biodiversity and model organisms, and for the wonderfully collaborative environment. The wide range of marine fishes that are available at the MBL provides an important resource for choosing appropriate species to answer particular questions and for comparative evolutionary approaches. Using specialization of marine species as a window into addressing fundamental questions in biology has been a great strength of the MBL and working and interacting with resident scientists and summer researchers there has been critical to shaping and pursuing our work. In addition, we have recently been interested in the nervous system and behavioral evolution that accompanied the water-to-land transition at the base of tetrapods. As a part of that, we have begun working in amphibians with help of the National Xenopus Resource.
What do I do/work on at the MBL?
I am looking forward to working with the Marine Resources Center to survey fin-based behavior and their sensorimotor organization and function. I am also really excited about a developing collaboration with the Morgan lab and National Xenopus Resource on startle neuron and circuit evolution. Lastly we aim to use the MBL as a base from which to do fieldwork that examines behavior in the natural environment.
See Melina’s website: The Hale Lab