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Robert E. Benoit Distinguished Lecture Series

Robert E. Benoit Distinguished Lectureship

female students look at water samples next to the duck pond
A male Passerini’s tanager, Ramphocelus passerinii, eats the fruit of Piper sancti-felicis. Photo by Bernadette Wynter Rigley.

Established by alumni of Lambda Chi Alpha & Sigma Omega Tau Fraternities
in memory of Dr. Robert E. Benoit

Biological Sciences lectureship

Upcoming Lecture

Amita Sehgal

HHMI, Perelman School of Medicine
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Thursday, March 21, 2024
Holtzman Alumni Center Assembly Hall

Unlocking the Metabolic Mysteries of Sleep: Before and After the Zzzs

Sleep remains a major mystery of biology.  Why we spend ~a third of our lives sleeping and what it is that makes us sleepy are major questions about sleep that lack satisfactory answers. There is universal agreement that lack of sleep impairs performance, especially cognitive ability, during waking hours and considerable evidence supports adverse effects of sleep loss on other physiological parameters as well.  Thus, sleep may be regarded as important for waking function.  However, what happens during sleep to facilitate wake performance and promote health?

Driven by the successful use of Drosophila for deciphering molecular mechanisms of the circadian clock, we developed a Drosophila model to address molecular and cellular underpinnings of sleep.  Through the use of forward genetic screens, we have identified genes and tissues that affect sleep amount.  Coupled with tests of candidate hypotheses for sleep function, we are starting to get a handle on cellular functions of sleep that may be broadly relevant for the brain, and perhaps even the body.  In general, we find that sleep is important for metabolic homeostasis, which includes the clearance of metabolic waste.  For instance, we find that autophagy and endocytosis through the blood brain barrier, both of which could facilitate clearance, are regulated by sleep.  Our ongoing work implicates sleep in lipid metabolism, in particular.  Together this work is leading to an understanding of cellular/molecular processes that underlie sleep.

Amita Sehgal is the John Herr Musser Professor of Neuroscience, Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Director of the Chronobiology and Sleep Institute (CSI) at the University of Pennsylvania. Sehgal received her Ph.D. from the Weill Graduate School of Cornell University and conducted her postdoctoral work at Rockefeller University.  She has made fundamental contributions towards our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that generate endogenous circadian rhythms and also the genetic mechanisms and functions of sleep.

Dr. Sehgal is a leader in the fields of circadian biology and sleep and, more broadly, in neuroscience and genetics. She has received many awards–the Outstanding Scientific Acievement award from the Sleep Research Society, the Javits Investigator award from NINDS (NIH), the Michael Brown and Stanley Cohen Research awards at Penn and the Honma Prize for biological rhythms from Japan– but her selection for the UCLA Switzer prize, in particular, reflects her broad recognition across the biomedical sciences. Dr. Sehgal’s other accolades include her election to the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences USA. She has also contributed greatly with her service on review panels (e.g. NIH, NSF, NASA, AFOSR, Sloan, McKnight), editorial boards (e.g. J. Neurosci, J. Clinical Investigation, Curr. Opinion in Neuro., eLife, PNAS, JBR) and advisory committees (e.g. Picower institute of MIT, Carney Institute of Brown University, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Germany, VIB in Belgium, Leon Levy Foundation, NINDS advisory council, Morehouse School of Medicine). Sehgal’s contributions to national/international scientific organizations include serving on committees for the Society for Neuroscience, the Genetics Society of America, AAAS and the National Academy of Sciences. In several of these committees/boards, Dr. Sehgal has held a leadership role, seen also in her organization of many conferences including Keystone and Gordon. Dr. Sehgal recently served as President of the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms.

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About the series

The Robert E. Benoit Distinguished Lectureship in Biological Sciences was established by members of the Lambda Chi Alpha Alumni Chapter at Virginia Tech, which includes alumni from both Sigma Omega Tau and Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternities, in memory of their former advisor, Dr. Robert E. Benoit, associate professor emeritus of biological sciences at Virginia Tech.

All talks are free and open to the public.  Registration is encouraged but not required.  Attendees are invited to stay for a reception after the talk.    

For more information:

Contact Jenny Orzolek, Senior Director of Major Gifts for Advancement | 540-231-5643