Professor John Bekkers
Born in Barcaldine, western Queensland, Australia.
Grew up in Darwin and Brisbane, Australia.
Griffith University, Brisbane - BSc (Hons 1) physics
Manchester University, UK - MSc history & philosophy of science
Cambridge University, UK - PhD neuroscience
Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA
Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA
Honours & Awards:
Griffith University Medal
Commonwealth Scholarship to the UK
Gedge Prize in Biology, Cambridge University
Queen Elizabeth II Research Fellowship
Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship
French language & literature
My group is interested in understanding how the brain processes information in order to make sense of the external world. We use the olfactory system of mice as a model system, focusing in particular on the primary olfactory cortex. Olfaction is a primitive sense and the structure of the primary olfactory cortex is much simpler than that of other sensory cortices, bringing technical advantages. Also, because the primary olfactory cortex is a primitive area that has persisted through evolution, we anticipate that it will contain canonical neural circuits that are found in many other brain regions. Finally, the primary olfactory cortex is unusually susceptible to epilepsy. Its study is likely to shed light on how epileptic seizures initiate and propagate.
We use a variety of advanced techniques in our research, including 2-photon microscopy, patch clamping, optogenetics and computer modelling. We perform 'in vivo' and 'in vitro' experiments, recording from acute brain slices as well as anaesthetised mice while applying odorants to the nose. We are addressing a number of fundamental questions about the primary olfactory cortex, including: How is odour identity encoded in the activities of networks of neurons? How do these patterns change after learning? Why is this cortex so epileptogenic and how can these seizures best be prevented?
There are many brain disorders that have no known histological trace and are thought to arise from subtle 'wiring errors'. By studying how normal brains are wired up, we expect that our research will eventually help us to 'sniff out' some of the underlying causes of debilitating mental diseases.