Neuroscience 2008: Emerging Themes

30,000 scientists are attending the annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience in Washington DC. To a neophyte attendee (like me) there seem to be at least that many lectures and posters to choose from. Yesterday I focused on attending several press events and I also enjoyed a featured lecture by Dr. Michael Bate, from Cambridge University (UK).

At the press events several themes emerged. As I mentioned in a previous post the leadership of the Society for Neuroscience is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of public awareness of neuroscience. Yesterday they announced Neuroscience Core Concepts, which they described as a “practical resource” about how the brain works.

Besides emphasizing the importance of public education, during the press briefing with various leaders from NIH, the importance of basic research was highlighted. A recent politician’s attack on fruit fly research has made scientists painfully aware that even people in leadership positions remain dangerously unaware that seemingly esoteric research can lead to important advances. The fruit’s fly’s essential role in genetic research is taken for granted by most scientists, but it is also important in neuroscience research that is not explicitly genetic in nature.

Later today I will try to post a brief description of Michael Bate ’s lecture. It is a perfect example of this principle since it involves using fruit fly larvae to study motor development. Even thought the fruit fly lacks a true brain it has a surprisingly complex nervous system.