November 28, 2016

Greer, Bear et al featured on the MRC's Biomedical Picture of the Week...

and can be found here. Note that the very next day the same blog posted a lovely pic from our friend Rachel Greenberg.

November 16, 2016

NIPS Trailer

Check out this terrific trailer for our upcoming NIPS abstract (with Alex Wiltschko, Matt Johnson, Ryan Adams and David Duvenaud) put together by David - it does a really nice job explaining the value of merging a model-based approach with neural nets. The combination allows clear articulation of model structure - and maintenance of semantic meaning - while simultaneously taking advantage of flexibly learned feature embeddings. We think this is going to be an important and general method for capturing structure in high-dimensional data. If you are at NIPS this year, check it out!

October 9, 2016

Dr. Tan!

Congratulations to Tari Tan for successfully defending her thesis! Tari did an amazing job explaining her work on the structure and function of the necklace olfactory system. We won't even try to summarize Tari's tenure in the lab, but her hard work, integrity, insight and sense of joy played an crucial role in making the lab what it is in spirit and in science. She has single-handedly re-written our thinking about the structural basis of olfactory perception - keep a weather-eye out for her work in the next few months, and you'll see what we mean :) We would bemoan her absence from our lives, but she is taking a job as the curriculum fellow for the Program in Neuroscience — she is going to be in charge of modernizing the way graduate students at Harvard learn about the brain — and she'll be continuing (at least for a while) in the lab on the side. So this is not so much goodbye as it is a congratulations on an amazing job! Here's to the newly minted Dr. Tan!

Tari making fun of Bob...
...and Bob emphasizing how much Tari loves the Pats!

Post-defense cake

Since robes won't be worn until the Spring, this will have to do for now

Happy Graduation Tari!

October 3, 2016

It is always sunny at the beach!

So here is another thing that really happened: after our annual beach trip (see pics below) we ended up at a bar on the North Shore in a group trivia contest. In the end, it came down to the Datta lab and some other group that turned out to be a bunch of researchers studying cnetophores....which of course don't have real nervous systems! When all was said and done, the $50 worth of free buffalo wings to the winner was ours, Natch! Because our model organism can actually think.

(Most of) The Lab!

Bob, per usual, losing a grape eating contest to Aviva
Trivia Champs!
A long day for Ralphie

July 26, 2016

Cool explainer video for Greer et al paper....

...made by a bunch of enthusiastic science communicators for public consumption can be found below. It captures the spirit of the paper really nicely. Enjoy!

A new mechanism and logic for mammalian olfaction

A huge congrats to Paul and Dan (and to everyone else in the lab whose hard work helped with the story) on their recent publication on a new family of chemoreceptors expressed in the mouse olfactory system. This paper, published last month in Cell, revises the canonical view of how mammalian olfaction works by identifying a new receptor family (called the MS4As) that do not encode seven-transmembrane-containing g-protein coupled receptors (like all other known mammalian chemoreceptor families) but instead encode proteins with only four transmembrane domains. These receptors, which respond to a wide variety of ethologically-relevant odors, including attractive food cues and aversive pheromones, are all co-expressed in the neurons in which they are expressed. These observations, in additional to being incredibly provocative, raise all sorts of interesting questions now being addressed in the lab: about the role of the MS4As in sensory perception; about the modes of coding and decoding of sensory information in the “necklace” system, the subsystem in which the MS4As are expressed; about the brain circuits attached to MS4A-expressing neurons in the nose; and about the behavioral consequences of activating the MS4A receptors. Lots of great stuff in the paper itself, which you can check out here! You can see coverage of these findings here, here and here.

And Lisa Stowers wrote a really nice (and generous!) preview of the article for Cell found here!

June 10, 2016

Alex Graduates!

A heartfelt thanks and farewell to Alex Wiltschko, who graduated from the lab with his PhD this month. Alex was instrumental in many of our projects, but his thesis focused on developing new methods for behavioral classification, with the goal of using this information to better understand how genes and neural circuit activity change patterned action. You can check out his work here and here; keep an eagle eye out for more in the near future. Alex had an immeasurable influence on the lab in the best possible ways – he will be sorely missed. We wish him all the best, and look forward to his future scientific accomplishments. Congrats, Alex!


Wrestled snake, now wrestles cake!

Graduation party



Super-dicey party bus

June 2, 2016


Gaudeamus Igitur! Ralph Peterson, Kristen Drummey and Jesse Katon, three of our amazing Northeastern co-op students, just graduated from Northeastern. Lucky for us, all three are sticking around at least for a little while longer. Oh, and the folks at Northeastern gave Ralphie an award as best co-op! Congrats to all!

Ralph is all smiles!

April 1, 2016

Happy Brain Awareness Week 2016!!!!

As anyone who has visited the lab knows, a ton of the power under the hood comes from Northeastern Co-op students; this great program brings undergraduates from our neighbor on Huntington Avenue into the lab for stints that last from three months to years — one of the things we are proudest of is that these undergraduates become a key part of the scientific process, and participate fully in projects from conception to completion. So when the NE Co-ops asked Bob to be a guest speaker at the NE Brain Awareness Week he jumped! Sure, Taco Bell was eaten, a lecture was given, questions were answered, and shout-outs were given to all the NE students who work so hard in lab. But then the tables turned, and everyone went out to the local UG bar around the corner. Just for reference, that thing that we are all doing with the shot glasses that are glued to a called a shotski! Who knew?

Brain Awareness Cake

Yes, there was an actual lecture. Here Bob gestures the letter C because Neurobiology is Cool!

About halfway through.

Shotski with  Natasha, Joe, Bob and Ralph

March 22, 2016

New Paper with the Adams lab...

...on the development and use of Structured Variational Autoencoders to better understand behavioral (and other classses) of data, posted today to the arXiv. The paper is super-cool - it describes a method to learn representations of complex time-series data (which are often non-linear) that are well-suited to structured models (using a Hidden Markov Model, for example). The approach could be used to solve many practical problems in modeling behavioral data, and we are really excited to try it on our 3D datasets. Congrats to Matt and Alex (and of course Ryan Adams) on their great work!

December 23, 2015

Happy Holidays 2015!

This was a hell of a year, and so the Datta lab (minus a few early departures for much-deserved vacation - Tari and Ralph, you were missed!) did it up - a little izakaya action, followed by vodka gimlets at Eastern Standard with the Sabatini, Harwell and Stevens labs. This is a true story: there was a live cockroach on our pickled vegetables, and after swapping it out, WE ALL KEPT EATING! Says a lot! Happy holidays to all - here's looking forward to a great 2016.

Everyone happy....except Bob, who wanted another cream puff....

   This video is a metaphor, in which Paul is alcohol, and Masha is the entire rest of the lab

December 21, 2015

December 16, 2015

Video Abstract for Wiltschko et al.

We made a little movie explainer for the public about our new approach to behavioral characterization. We hope you like it!

Interested in Mouse Behavior?...

...then check out the latest paper from the lab in this week's issue of Neuron! The paper describes a new technology for behavioral characterization and classification that combines 3D machine vision with recently developed approaches in unsupervised machine learning. This combined method can be used to objectively characterize mouse behavior in a wide variety of circumstances, and to identify changes in action induced after manipulations of the environment, the genome or neural activity; as such, this approach promises to provide fundamental insight into the complex relationships between the genome, neural activity and patterns of action. We are currently using this method in the lab in a wide array of experiments, ranging from characterizing naturalistic patterns of odor-driven behavior in rodents to trying to identify nodes within corticostriatal circuits responsible for behavioral sequencing. Congrats to Alex, Matt and others in the lab who contributed to the paper!

(PDF can be found under the "Publications" tab, and further discussion in the "Research" section).

October 22, 2015


Thank god that is over! 30,000 people, and a seemingly equal number of posters. Also answered was the question: how many slices of deep dish can one eat in a week? Stan, Alex and Ralphie did a great job sharing their data with the community, our colleagues Bernardo and Beth gave fantastic plenary talks, and it was terrific to see Mike and Carla win the Gruber prize. Enough to make this an annual event? Maybe.....

Alex, somewhere in the scrum, talking about our new 3D behavioral analysis technology

Blurry but well-earned: Carla and Mike accepting the Gruber prize!

I appreciate the frankness of the vomit fee in Chicago cabs

Ralphie's first real meeting poster

September 29, 2015

Bye, bye, bye!

A hearty N' Sync farewell to our intrepid now former lab manager, Ally Nowlan! Ally was an amazing member of the lab and our backbone for several years - we wish her that absolute best of luck as she starts grad school with the Cold Spring Harbor crew in neurobiology. Steve Shea has already been warned!

To celebrate her contributions to the lab and her new career as a graduate student, we did a little karaoke. We learned that, no matter where in the world you come from, you almost certainly enjoy drunk singing to Bohemian Rhapsody. We also welcomed our new lab manager, Neha Bhagat, who until recently was an undergraduate at Northeastern and had spent time in the Datta lab diligently injecting the brains of animals with viruses, amongst other things. Ally you will be missed - keep in touch, and good luck with everything! And a hearty welcome to Neha!


Not to be missed video of Giuliano singing O Sole Mio

Ally wishing us all Bye Bye Bye
Neha, with pipette at the ready!

May 21, 2015

To the very narrow demographic that loves olfaction, the beach, and big syrahs....

...come to this great smell meeting organized by Anne Marie Oswald and Bob at UCSB in collaboration with the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics this summer. Should be a blast, and at least part of the Datta lab will represent. Going to be a blast!

October 8, 2014

Summer loving, happened so fast!

The Datta Lab (plus a couple F1s), at Good Harbor Beach.
Waiting for the lobster rolls. You can't really tell, but it is COLD!

New Postdoc Tatsuya. Not on TV (yet).
Summer Student Max. Currently on TV. 

A happy fall (and end of summer) from the Datta lab! Lots has happened in the last 18 months (the approximate timescale upon which this blog currently operates), nearly none of which was documented, so this is an attempt to compress some of the highlights into a single blog entry. MUCH will be left unsaid - our apologies to those affected by any oversights.

First, we went to the beach (see above)! This was awesome, since the rip tides were in full effect and the waves were like something out of the movie Sharknado. We didn't lose anyone, and those that stuck it out ended up playing mini-golf on Route 1 in Saugus in front of a plastic green dinosaur. Totally worth it.

Second, the awards roll - postdoc Giuliano Iurilli won a prestigious Human Frontiers fellowship to work in the lab on the striatum, graduate student Tari Tan netted an F31 NRSA for her work on non-canonical olfactory systems, new postdoc Tatsuya Tsukahara joined us from the University of Tokyo (where he did spectacular work in developmental molecular biology in Hiroyuki Takeda's and Yoshi Watanabe's labs) armed with a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science fellowship, and Bob was recently named a Vallee Foundation Young Investigator.

Third, postdoc Andrew Giessel wrote a really nice review on odor coding and circuit function different olfactory regions in the brain, linked here. Check it out!

Finally, the lab also got bigger, despite the fact that Dan recently decided that aerobic exercise is a "thing" and Bob has more or less stayed low carb. Joining our awesome Northeastern Co-op student Ralph Peterson (who has been working with Alex on behavior) are three more Co-op students - Jesse Katon (also working on new methods for behavioral analysis), Neha Bhagat and Alex Williams (both working to deliver optogenetic reagents to across the olfactory cortical mantle). This summer saw us visited by Max Burkholder, who plays Max Braverman on the TV show Parenthood, and who worked with Ally doing molecular biology. All these new people needed some place to work so we (temporarily) built a lab expansion next to our new colleague Matt Pecot's lab to get some elbow room.

OK, enough blogging for now. Back to science!

January 9, 2014

Merry New Year!!!

So, I know many of you have been asking yourselves - What is up with the Datta Lab? Why are no updates on the blog? Well I'm here to tell you - we've been BUSY!!!! So, to prevent an excessive information/blog post ratio, and to make it easier for us to tell y'all wassup, we are going to do a multipost recounting of  what we did in the last year starting.....sometime next week. For now, know that lots of interesting and cool changes have been afoot (new folks, new experiments, new neighbors), and let us wish you the best new year possible in the best way possible:

January 6, 2013

Happy Holidays 2012!

A crazy Datta Lab 2012 it has definitely been - overall the science has taken a fortuitous left turn into a strange, unexplored and really interesting place, and we have been joined in our efforts in the wilderness by a bunch of talented new folks from across the globe (more about them to come!). At celebrate all the hard work for our holiday party we decamped to a Teppan-Yaki-style restaurant before joining, as is traditional, the Stevens and Sabatini labs at Eastern Standard for further dipsomaniacal debauchery; all you need to know is that the phrase "More Sake More Fun!" was uttered more than once, and that Bob can only drink for about 4 seconds from a squirt bottle. Others did significantly better! Best wishes from all of us for a great and productive 2013!
Jonny is Judas