Queens College Scholar-Athlete Records Win in Neuroscience

Last fall, after two seasons competing in breaststroke on the swim team, Kobi Wasner added 1-meter diving to his rep­ertoire. Like two other members of the team, he was also diving into research in the lab of Carolyn Pytte (Psychology). That work paid off at Hunter College on April 1, when he won the Suzannah Bliss Tieman Research Award at the 22nd conference held by N.E.U.R.O.N. (the Northeast Under/graduate Research Organization for Neuroscience). Wasner was recognized for the poster he presented on lateralization in the caudomedial nido­pallium, or NCM, the auditory area in the songbird’s brain that learns and stores vocalizations. (The NCM is thought to be analogous to Werneke’s area, the lateralized speech-specific brain region in humans; in right-handed people, it’s on the left hemi­sphere.)

In collaboration with fellow QC swim­mer Sissi Palma Ribeiro, Wasner studied the NCM in adult zebra finches. They discov­ered that with exposure to normal vocaliza­tions, a zebra finch forms more new neu­rons, or nerve cells, in the left hemisphere NCM than in the comparable NCM on the right side of the bird’s brain. But if the finch gets experimentally altered feedback of its own singing, neuron growth is greater on the right side—evidence that nerve cells can be recruited to one hemisphere over the other, and that regions found in both hemispheres of the brain may function dif­ferently.

A double major in psychology and neu­roscience/biology, Wasner began working in Pytte’s lab in April 2011. “It’s a group project and we all collaborate,” he explains. “My specialty is work on the microscope.”

As in swimming, practice matters. Ten days before his appearance at the N.E.U.R.O.N. conference, Wasner made the same presentation at the undergraduate con­ference held by the QC chapter of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society. Still shocked and delighted by his win, he considers it an achievement for everyone in Pytte’s lab. “It’s our first award for a poster,” says Wasner, who has recently been accepted to the master’s program for behavioral neuro­science at QC.

For more about Queens College visit http://www.qc.cuny.edu/Pages/default.aspx

Contact: Phyllis Cohen Stevens
Deputy Director of News Services

Maria Matteo
Assistant Director of News Services