Alcohol exposure during development causes a wide range of defects in many organisms, from mammals to insects. In humans, prenatal alcohol exposure causes a variety of complications, from slow growth and birth defects to mental retardation and behavior problems. These symptoms are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or fetal alcohol syndrome.
While it is clear that genetic factors mediate sensitivity to the developmental effects of alcohol, no genes mediating these effects have yet been identified. My lab is working to fill in the genetic blanks using the genetic model organism Drosophila melanogaster.
I have established a Drosophila model of fetal alcohol syndrome. My current research focuses on using this model to identify the neurodevelopmental pathways that are altered by exposure to alcohol during development, and the genes underlying those pathways. My ultimate goal is to understand how gene expression is affected by developmental exposure to alcohol, and use that information to investigate the neurotoxic mechanisms leading to the behavioral and cognitive alterations associated with fetal alcohol syndrome. It is my hope to discover drug targets that may one day result in an effective treatment for fetal alcohol syndrome.