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Aref Zarin Ph.D.

Aref Zarin was a postdoctoral researcher in the HHMI laboratory of Chris Doe at the University of Oregon. Aref applies cutting-edge technologies to study the development and function of neural circuits driving motor behaviors in Drosophila larva.


In collaborative research, Aref generated a comprehensive synapse-level motor connectome using electron microscopy reconstruction of the entire larval nervous system. Aref is a pioneer in the application of calcium imaging methods to monitor neuronal activity and characterize animal locomotor behaviors at a single-muscle level. By altering the neural function and examining the motor output, Aref links the activity of individual neurons to animal behaviors.


Aref received his Ph.D. from the University of Dublin, where he studied the transcriptional mechanisms underlying neural circuit development. He also has an M.Sc. degree in Molecular Genetics from the University of Tehran.  


Aref is a multicultural person who has lived in three different countries (four culturally distinct cities), and can fluently speak three different languages. Traveling to different countries, exploring new cultures, camping, hiking and outdoor adventures, gardening and landscaping, beer tasting, and barbequing are the hobbies that Aref enjoys.

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Lewis Sherer Ph.D.

Lewis earned his BS in Molecular and Cell Biology from Texas A&M University and his PhD in Cellular, Molecular, and Microbial Biology from the University of Montana. During his doctoral studies in the lab of Dr. Sarah Certel, Lewis studied the functional implications of dual transmission, whereby neurons release more than one transmitter, using aggressive behavior as a readout. He characterized a subset of dual transmitting neurons that expressed both the invertebrate norepinephrine analog octopamine and the excitatory transmitter glutamate. Lewis identified complementary and separable functions for octopamine and glutamate within octopamine/glutamate neurons: both octopamine and glutamate release are required for aggression, while only octopamine release is required to constrain courtship. Lewis has also characterized the presynaptic regulatory mechanisms of single octopamine/glutamate neurons within an aggression circuit. He has identified octopamine and glutamate autoreceptors whose expression in a single neuron is required to constrain aggression, as well as two octopamine/glutamate single-neuron pairs that promote mid-level and high-level aggressive behaviors. 

When he is not in the lab, Lewis enjoys a variety of hobbies. Lewis is an amateur mixologist and would sometimes mix up Friday night cocktails for stressed-out graduate students. Lewis also enjoys playing strategy games and board games with friends. He enjoys hiking, backpacking, and camping and counts excursions in Texas, Montana, and California among his most memorable. Lewis also assumes the role of Dungeon Master for a weekly Dungeons and Dragons group, where he devises puzzles for the party that are rarely solved in the way he intended.


Yuhan Huang

Yuhan earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Sichuan University, China and a Master’s degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology (Garrity Lab) from Brandeis University, Massachusetts. With experience in genetics, molecular biology and behavioral study in the Drosophila model, she finds herself deeply interested in neuroscience, especially in how neural circuits produce disntinct behavioral outputs in different situations. The Zarin lab becomes an ideal place for her to study the activity pattern of motor neurons and interneurons in the motor circuit and their connectivity in a single-cell resolution, using cutting-edge confocal microscopy, Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) reconstruction, and advanced data analysis using MATLAB. During her PhD, she will be continuously working on neuronal activity of different neurons during Drosophila larvae locomotion and the hierarchy of neurons within the motor circuit; she is also interested in how sensory feedback helps optimizing motor circuit activity and behavior output during locomotion.

Yuhan is a HEAVY gamer and she plays a variety of video games in her free time. Yuhan enjoys learning computer technology such as programming, video editing, 3D modeling and assembly of PC, smartphone and other electronical devices. She also likes to build and collect figures and models of animation and video game characters.


Lizzy Olsen

Lizzy earned her Bachelors in Neuroscience for the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is interested in the cell and molecular mechanisms of the developing nervous system. Using the Drosophila model she is planning to contribute to the knowledge base of how the nervous system forms and is maintained. In the lab she will be characterizing the expression of nicotinic Acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in motor neurons of larvae and examining how the knock down of one or more of these receptor subunits affects locomotion as well as any redundancy and/or compensation. This will give her the opportunity to employ immunohistochemistry, genetic techniques including RNAi and CRISPR, and confocal imaging.

Outside of the lab, Lizzy enjoys going to the movies. Marvel movies in particular are a great interest of hers. She also enjoys attending Broadway musicals whenever she can. At home she can often be found hanging out with her cat and cooking.

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Ankura Sitaula

Ankura earned her bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Texas at Arlington. As an undergraduate, she worked in Dr. Clay Clark’s lab where she was actively involved in cancer research. She was fascinated by the ways science could be used to answer complex questions. Driven by this enthusiasm, Ankura joined Zarin lab in the fall of 2021. She is interested in advancing her knowledge of excitatory cholinergic transmission in Drosophila underlying larval locomotion behavior. She believes discovering the expression patterns of cholinergic receptors will advance mankind’s knowledge of central cholinergic synapse development and plasticity. Ankura also believes deciphering the cholinergic endogenous fly pentameric receptors will aid in modeling insecticide resistance. During her Ph.D., she will be working on examining neuromodulation and neurotransmission using Drosophila larvae.

Ankura is also an astrophysics enthusiast and likes to read astrophysics books in her free time. She also visits different observatories for stargazing. She believes amalgamation and advancement in the field of biology and astrophysics would make it possible for us to be a multi-planetary species someday.

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Hannah Crowe

Hannah is an undergraduate researcher in her senior year of her Bachelor’s degree in Biology at Texas A&M. Due to her interest in neuroscience and genetics, as well as the desire to link the two with medicine, she joined the Zarin Lab of Neurobiology in the spring of 2021. She plans to take the MCAT and apply for medical school in the year after her graduation. Her main focus within the lab is studying and gaining an understanding of how dopamine-mediated neuromodulation affects locomotion in Drosophila Melanogaster. In order to do so, she is developing skills such as using MATLAB to analyze data, becoming familiar with drosophila musculature, dissecting out larval brains in L2 and L3 larvae, and is currently working on her thesis in this very area.


As much as Hannah loves the fields of science and technology she also has a passion for the arts and for athletics. Spending time playing the piano, guitar, studying other languages, staying active, and participating in the competitive girls volleyball intramural are all things she loves to do. She also enjoys spending time with friends and family.

Interested in joining the lab? 

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