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Successful ERC-Starter Grant to Tom Baden

Zebrafish vision in its natural context: from natural scenes through retinal and central processing to behaviour.”

(“NeuroVisEco - 677687”)

The ERC-project is funded with a sum of 1.5m € over 5 years. Backed by this funding, Tom Baden will set up his new lab at the University of Sussex, UK in summer 2016. There will also be a number of PhD and post-doc positions available.

Figure 1 | Project outline. The project sets out to survey the response properties of visual neurons to naturalistic stimuli at several sequential processing stages, from retinal circuits to the brain. (Images adapted from Cerveny and Wilson; G Smit)
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Figure 2 | The natural visual world of zebrafish. To better understand what zebrafish actually see in the wild the project aims to directly film its underwater world using camera systems intended to mimic the animals’ visual apparatus.
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Figure 3 | Using light to study a visual system. Two-photon population imaging of light-evoked neuronal activity at the resolution of single cells or synapses can be used to study visual processing in the intact retina of different species. (a by T.Euler. b from Baden, Schubert et al. Neuron 2013. c from Baden et al. Current Biology 2013. d by L Lagnado. e from Baden et al Current Biology 2011 and Dreosti, Esposti et al. Nat Neurosci 2011.)
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Far from using a pixel-based representation of the outside world, visual systems perform extensive processing of the visual scene. Only a tiny fraction of information available to an animal's eyes is relayed to the brain, which in turn builds an internal representation of the outside visual world. Here, behaviourally relevant image aspects are emphasised at the expense of others. Depending on an animal's lifestyle, these aspects may differ widely, necessitating a plethora of specialisations in the structure and function eyes and brain-circuits. Fundamentally, insights gained from studying a species' visual system must be brought into direct context of its visual purpose.

The project will use the highly visual and experimentally accessible zebrafish to systematically survey both their natural visual input and its neuronal representation in the eye and brain. This will allow studying how zebrafish visual circuits have adapted to process information critical to its survival. Building on previous work on the visual system of mice, comparison of how different species solve both similar and dissimilar visual tasks using a similar set of neurons will lead to a more general understanding of biological vision, and how visual systems can adapt to a range of environments.