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Making the world safe and secure from emerging infectious and neglected tropical diseases by applying One Health – the synergy of animal, human, and environmental sciences – to global health and security.

David Saenz

Electric Fish: Light up Solutions for Neurophysiology

David Saenz, a Texas A&M University doctoral student in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, attended the 2016 Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in New Orleans, Louisiana on July 6-10, 2016. He presented his poster titled “Signaling Adaptations in Electric Fishes.” David’s mentor was Dr. Kirk Winemiller, a Regents Professor in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences.

David’s research focused on the weakly electric fishes from the order Gymnotiformes. These nocturnal fish are unique in that they discharge modified muscle cells and use electrolocation to navigate through dark water. These electric organ discharges (EODs) are species specific and allow the fish to use electrocommunication for identifying and signaling other members of the same species during social interactions. The fish have the potential to serve as models for neurophysiology, mechanical engineering, biogeography and other fields. David’s mentor, Dr. Winemiller, said “David's research on the physiological response of weakly electric fishes to adrenocorticotrophic hormone has tremendous potential to advance our understanding of neurophysiology in humans and other vertebrates, as well as our understanding of the evolution and maintenance of biodiversity in the tropics.  Because the basic manner in which cell sodium channels are regulated is conserved in vertebrates, these fishes provide excellent models for neurophysiology research. These fish are very hardy and easy to study in the laboratory.  The fact that their electrical fields can be detected easily with monitoring equipment allows David to examine neurological responses to various stimuli and manipulations without use of invasive procedures.  Additionally, these fish are nocturnal with strong circadian rhythms.  The molecular and physiological basis for circadian rhythms is very important research topic currently, and it has multiple direct applications to human health.”

David’s presentation in the conference led to valuable outcomes. “The poster I presented at JMIH described my on-going research about how different ecological and evolutionary forces may have shaped the underlying physiology of their electric discharges. I conversed with many fellow scientists, including a couple of graduate students and professors from other universities and countries that showed strong interest in this research. Two of these conversations later led to plans of future collaboration for field and lab work with researchers from the University of Central Florida and Louisiana State University. Together, we hope to show how these unique fish modify their electric signals by looking at differences in their physiological ecology. This One Health research is a small stepping stone toward a better understanding of the ecology of these fish as well as the evolution of proteins critical for the function of vertebrate nervous systems.”

Click here to view David's abstract.

David Saenz