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Recently, Professor Venkatesh Murthy gave a talk entitled “Algorithms and Neural Circuits in Olfaction,” at the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences in Bangalore, exploring how animals sense the chemical world to guide their behaviors. “Fluctuating mixtures of odorants, often transported in fluid environments, are detected by an array of chemical sensors and parsed by neural circuits to recognize odor objects that can inform behavioral decisions. Unlike other sensory systems, the olfactory system lacks an obvious topographic organization, has a shallow hierarchy, and neural connectivity across brain regions is seemingly unstructured,” says Murthy.

Throughout the talk, Murthy shared his team’s progress in seeking algorithmic and neural explanations for how animals solve some specific olfactory tasks. Presenting his team’s work teaching mice to recognize odor objects, Murthy explained to the audience how animals use odors to guide their behaviors. “The mice are actually very good at learning olfactory tasks,” said Murthy. “In behavioral shaping, you can start with simple tasks and they start associating something with a reward.”

“Our research group uses a variety of biophysical, neurophysiological, and behavioral methods to understand how odorant features are encoded in the activity of neurons and transformed in different stages of processing,” says Murthy. With the information they learn, the team has the opportunity to uncover common principles across different sensory systems in the brain. 

Watch the video of Professor Murthy’s presentation above to learn more.