Prize Scholar: Dalia Gala

Dalia Gala

I am a graduate student reading for a DPhil in Biochemistry.  In my research, I am fascinated by the structure and function of the synapse which allows for signals from the brain to be sent to and received by the muscle cells, called the neuromuscular junction (NMJ). If this synapse does not function properly, neurodegenerative illnesses like motor neurone disease can result. We use fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) larvae to examine the morphology and properties of this synapse. The Drosophila NMJ is a famous neuroscientific model, used to study the basic molecular processes underlying synaptic plasticity, which is necessary for learning and memory formation. This model is particularly well suited for such work because about 75% of the genes responsible for human diseases have homologues in flies, mutants of which give phenotypes similar to the human diseases.

My DPhil project is focused on analysing the behaviour of glial cells at the larval NMJ to understand their functional role in synapse formation by the adjacent neurons, with which these glia interact. Glial cells are important parts of synapses but are studied much less and historically neglected in synaptic research. My work is disruptive and provides further evidence not only for glia being very active and important players in the formation of synaptic plasticity and correct neurogenesis, but also for the fact that mRNA localization and local translation could be key processes without which major neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders occur.

Beyond my scientific interests, I have also started working with Oxford AI society labs where I have been involved in a project related to gender bias in Natural Language Processing. I have been an active member of our college community by holding committee roles both on the MCR and Boat Club committees.