The National Latsis Prize 2015 has been awarded to biologist Richard Benton for his work on the fruit fly's sense of smell. Using an interdisciplinary approach he studies how chemical signals control the behaviour of insects.
How odours influence actions is one of the fundamental questions in neuroscience. Richard Benton, associate professor at the Center for Integrative Genomics at the University of Lausanne, follows the molecular trail of chemical messages from the nose to the brain of insects. For his work, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) on behalf of the International Latsis Foundation awards Benton with the National Latsis Prize 2015.
The 38-year-old researcher mainly studies the model organism Drosophila melanogaster, the common vinegar fly, to decipher the molecular logic of how insects receive chemical signals to distinguish kin, mates, competitors, prey and predators.
This involves identifying the receptors in the nose and the neurons in the brain that respond to information insects receive via their sense of smell. Benton tries to understand how a specific substance triggers activity in certain regions of the brain to provoke particular behaviours.
Similarities to humans
“Although the fruit fly’s nose is simpler than our own, odour perception in insects is strikingly similar to how humans detect smells,” Benton explains. “It becomes apparent when you look at how their neural circuits are organised and respond to odours.” What we learn from the fruit fly can therefore help us better understand neural circuits in more complex brains.
One particular interest of Benton’s group is to define how pheromones are detected. Insects – like most animals – use chemical signals to attract mates, to mark their paths or their territory, and to signal danger. The British researcher investigates the molecular pathways for pheromone sensing to explain how these vital chemical messages in minute quantities are detected and how they specifically trigger the correct behavioural response.
Benton is also interested in understanding how nervous systems evolve, over thousands of generations, to adapt an animal’s behaviour to its environment. Some species of flies, for example, feed only on specific fruits. This specialisation is accompanied by changes in their smell receptor genes and the wiring of neurons in the brain. Understanding the genetic changes that underlie the tweaking of the structure and function of neural circuits is important to understand how brains are built and operate.
Repel harmful insects
The studies are not restricted to provide fundamental knowledge on neuroscience. “From the basic research my group conducts it is only a small step to practical applications,” says Benton.
Understanding molecular mechanisms of the insect’s sense of smell may give researchers clues on how to interfere and manipulate odour-evoked behaviours in the wild. For example, Benton’s findings in Drosophila melanogaster could inspire solutions to help trap or ward off closely related Drosophila suzukii, a pest that is damaging grape and strawberry crops.
“Our findings also have the potential to reduce the incidence of human diseases.” Malaria, dengue fever or sleeping sickness are transmitted by bloodsucking insects including mosquitoes and tsetse flies, who rely on their sense of smell to find their hosts.
Born in Edinburgh in 1977, Richard Benton’s studies took him to Cambridge where he obtained his PhD in biology. He worked as a post-doctoral fellow at The Rockefeller University in New York between 2003 and 2007. He then joined the Center for Integrative Genomics at the University of Lausanne as an assistant professor and became associate professor in 2012.
Benton has won several prizes and received ERC Starting and Consolidator Grants. The passionate pianist is married to a professor of microbiology and father of two children aged eight and five.
A portrait of Richard Benton can be found in the latest edition of the Swiss research magazine Horizons.
Video portrait with Richard Benton
You can download photographs of Richard Benton at:www.snsf.ch > Research in focus > Media > Press releases
National Latsis Prize
The National Latsis Prize worth CHF 100,000 is among the most important scientific honours in Switzerland. The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) awards the prize on behalf of the «Fondation Latsis Internationale» to young researchers up to the age of 40 for exceptional scientific work conducted in Switzerland.
The Latsis Foundation was established in 1975 by the Latsis family in Geneva. The prize is awarded for the 32nd time this year and will be presented in a ceremony at the Rathaus in Berne on 22 January 2016. Interested members of the media may register via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Richard Benton
Center for Integrative Genomics
Faculty of Biology and Medicine
University of Lausanne
Phone: +41 (0)21 692 39 32 and +41 (0)78 911 32 13
http://www.snf.ch/en/researchinFocus/newsroom/Pages/news-151124-horizons-benton-... Current Issue - Horizons No. 107, December 2015
https://youtu.be/ZFTUp5HN26U Video portrait "Latsis Prize awarded to fruit fly researcher Richard Benton" © SNSF / Rhône Productions.
http://www.snf.ch/en/researchinFocus/newsroom/Pages/news-151124-press-release-la... Download photographs of Richard Benton
Media - Abteilung Kommunikation | Schweizerischer Nationalfonds SNF
Tracking down the origins of gold
08.11.2017 | Heidelberger Institut für Theoretische Studien gGmbH
Lasagni awarded with Materials Science and Technology Prize 2017
09.10.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Werkstoff- und Strahltechnik IWS
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine
17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses