Mubarak Hussain Syed, an assistant professor of Biology at The University of New Mexico, has received the prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation that will allow him to pursue his passions of understanding brain development and function, mentoring students, and science outreach. His project, “Mechanisms regulating neural identity, connectivity and function- From stem cells to circuits," will receive $1.8 million over five years.

syed lab

Syed, a neuroscientist, is interested in the development and function of neurons, glia (other cell types in the human brain), and neural circuits. Syed’s lab studies developmental programs regulating neural diversity and function - from stem cells to neural circuits.

“Over the years, I have gained experience in developmental neuroscience, and now we are aiming to establish a link between developmental mechanisms and adult behaviors using Drosophila, or fruit flies, as a model system,” he said, adding, “I have been working with fruit flies for over a decade. They are incredible creatures and have led to many fundamental discoveries in many fields, including the development, genetics, and neuroscience.

"We are currently studying neural stem cell-specific programs that regulate the identity and function of neural types that populate adult Drosophila central complex - a highly conserved brain structure necessary for complex behaviors, including sensorimotor integration, locomotor action selection and sleep” 

Syed will use the NSF CAREER award to achieve his three passions: research, engaging diverse population of undergraduate students into neuroscience research, and science outreach.

“Thanks to the NSF, my lab members, mentors and the collaborators, this award will cover my research, engaging students into neuroscience research and science outreach.”

“The molecular mechanisms that regulate the formation and function of neural cell types are not fully understood. Our lab will investigate this long-standing problem using the Drosophila central complex model system. Through this award, the studies will advance the field by identifying the mechanisms that regulate neural diversity, identity, and function of neural circuits,” Syed explained. "This will enhance our fundamental knowledge of how neural cell types are generated and assembled so we can better harness stem cells to treat disorders such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, and autism."

Engaging undergraduate students into research
“I aim to recruit undergraduate researchers to carry out experiments in a lab-based neurogenetics lab course through this award. This neuroscience course will provide a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) NeuroCURE to a diverse group of learners, thus allowing them to better identify themselves as scientists with the capacity to engage in a critical field of study actively. This course will be the first neuroscience lab course offered to undergraduates at the UNM Biology.”

Science Outreach
“I am very passionate about science outreach and reaching out to the local schools by visiting the classroom. I have been doing these activities for some time now.”

Over the years, Syed has visited various schools and educational institutes and demonstrated experiments in a classroom. Through a Pueblo Brain Science (PBS) program, Syed and his students aim to visit the local Pueblo high schools of Zia and Jemez and demonstrate hands-on fruit fly activities to the school pupil and the community the power of fruit flies. These activities will address two of the New Mexico's grand challenges, education and addiction. The mission of PBS will be to provide exposure to science and to raise awareness about the ill effects of drugs and other addictive substances have on the brain and health. The Syed lab will coordinate high school visits to the UNM and specifically to the neural diversity lab through NM MESA.

“I have also partnered with the local school teachers to implement active learning modules in the school using Droso4school modules. Our goal will be to present lessons and classroom activities that align with the high school Next Generation Science Standards. Fruit flies are a powerful model system for uncovering conserved principles of animal biology and are uniquely suited for live experiments in resource limited schools.”

“At UNM, I realized that most undergraduates, specifically students belonging to underrepresented minorities, underprivileged, and economically weaker sections, don't know about research opportunities or don't get any research opportunities during college years. I have started an informal mentorship program called NEURONAL, which stands for Neuroscience Experiences and Undergraduate Research Opportunities for Native Americans, African Americans, and Latinos, more details about the program can be found on my lab webpage.”

“After teaching genetics and neuroscience to junior and senior undergraduates, I realized most of these students feel lost, have little information about research and research-oriented fields, and needed direction. I have started an informal mentorship program called NEURONAL:  Neuroscience Experiences and Undergraduate Research Opportunities for Native Americans, African Americans, and Latinos/Hispanic. I am from Kashmir, and to help/mentor students back home, I started an organization JKScientists when I was a graduate student. It is a public organization now, and thanks to the young generation of students, it is moving forward.”

“Good mentors change lives,” he observed.


CAREER: The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.