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Dr. Shekhar Named McKnight Scholar

Karthik Shekhar.
Congratulations, Dr. Karthik Shekhar!

We are proud to announce that Assistant Professor Dr. Karthik Shekhar has been named a McKnight Scholar! As one of 10 recipients, Dr. Shekhar was awarded a scholarship for his project tiled: “Evolution of Neural Diversity and Patterning in the Visual System” by the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience. Dr. Shekhar is a member of the Vision Science Graduate Group and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, and a Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UC Berkeley.

The McKnight Scholar Awards are granted to young scientists who are in the early stages of establishing their own independent laboratories and research careers and who have demonstrated a commitment to neuroscience. Since the award was introduced in 1977, this prestigious early-career award has funded more than 260 innovative investigators and spurred hundreds of breakthrough discoveries.

About Dr. Shekhar's Project

Dr. Shekhar’s lab seeks to understand how diverse neural types and their organization evolved to serve the needs of different animals. His research focuses on the visual system of the brain, specifically the retina and the primary visual cortex, which are remarkably well conserved across species separated by hundreds of millions of years of evolution. By understanding the neuronal composition in the retinas of different species, and how those neurons are organized, he hopes to uncover how evolution has acted to accommodate distinct visual requirements – and furthermore, uncover the genetic underpinnings of neural network and brain evolution.

Dr. Shekhar’s research will examine the evolutionary conservation and divergence of neuronal types in the retina of several vertebrate species, from fish to birds to mammals, and use computational approaches to reconstruct the evolution of neural diversity. He will examine if evolution led to the rise of new types or modification of existing types, including changes in morphology, function, or connectivity. A concurrent effort will investigate the visual cortex, a structure common to all mammals, and will focus on tracing the origins of early developmental epochs known as “critical periods”, where neural networks in the brain show exquisite plasticity to sensory experience. The research will help show how evolutionary adaptations occurred in the visual system, which will also point the way for further research into how other parts of the brain evolved. A guiding principle underlying his approach is that interdisciplinary collaborations – with engineers, neuroscientists, clinicians, and computational scientists – can bring new approaches to tackle some of the big questions in neuroscience.

Read the full press release from the UC Berkeley College of Chemistry at the button below.

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