Biology

Mala Misra

Assistant Professor of Biology
Education
  • B.S., University of Virginia, 2003
  • Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2009
Research

I’m interested in how neurons, a critical cell type in the nervous system, grow into their unique shapes. Many neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders are characterized in part by changes in neuron shape, and these changes are thought to contribute directly to disordered or atypical neurological function. Understanding how neurons make decisions about their shapes during development can help us create better models of these disorders and, hopefully, better treatments.

Image: A class IV "dendritic arborization" neuron in a fruit fly larva. Some classes of neurons in humans have similar structures.Image: A class IV "dendritic arborization" neuron in a fruit fly larva. Some classes of neurons in humans have similar structures.

To study neuron development, I use the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Fruit flies are a powerful experimental tool because we can manipulate their genes with relative ease and then study the effects of these manipulations on a wide variety of traits, including neuron shape and neuron function.

At the moment, I am especially interested in how neurons remodel their shapes on a local scale to adapt to changing cues from surrounding cells. I use a combination of molecular techniques and microscopy to monitor changes in gene expression and neuron growth over time. With these experiments, I hope to gain insight into conserved genetic mechanisms that regulate neuron development in flies as well as in more complex organisms, including humans.

Teaching
  • Fall 2017: BIO111 General Biology I and BIO302 Developmental Biology
  • Spring 2018: BIO100 Current Topics: Human Development and BIO394 Special Topics: Neurodevelopment
Professional Experience
  • Postdoctoral Research Associate, Princeton University, 2010-2014
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Colgate University, 2014-2017