The scientific focus of research at Bio@SNS is the study of the brain, investigating aspects of brain function and mechanisms during development, in the adult and in ageing. The research at the Scuola Normale Superiore (SNS) Laboratory of Biology follows two main directions: the main scientific focus on Neurobiology and Neurosciences (which remain an area of great strength and tradition at SNS) is complemented and integrated by new scientific programs investigating the molecular and cellular basis of neural development and stem cell biology, neurodegeneration and ageing.
Major advancements in neurosciences rely heavily on new methods. For this reason, the broad scientific aims in Neurobiology is accompanied by a strong effort in the development of new experimental methods and technologies, with the aim of setting-up, at Bio@SNS, state of the art and cutting edge technologies and at developing new technologies and experimental strategies, in the fields of genomics (particularly small RNA genomic technologies), recombinant antibodies (particularly intrabodies), optogenetics and genetic incorporation of unnatural aminoacids, through genetic code expansion, in recombinant proteins of interest.
In present day Neurobiology, there still is a big gap between the experimental level of single cells and the system level approach.This gap is partially overcome by the use of organism with simpler nervous systems, C. elegans, Aplysia, Drosophila, but, for the nervous system of higher organisms, the integration of the cell and system’s level remains a big problem. Solving this gap requires the convergence of different experimental approaches and technologies, allowing to study at the molecular level single identified neurons, in the context of the normal circuit of the whole system, to which they belong. In perspective, one long range objective of the Laboratory will be to establish in the laboratory and to develop approaches that allow “single neuron genetics and imaging in vivo”, to study two main themes of central interest to the BioSNS Laboratory: visual system plasticity and neurodegeneration. Thus, by combining and integrating different optical, genetic and molecular technologies, one long term objective of BioSNS is to be able to study single identified neurons, in the synaptic and connection context they belong to, during the course of activity dependent plasticity events or of neurodegenerative processes. The medium-to long-term technological development activities is targeted in the above described direction, also exploiting the synergic collaboration with expertise and know-how from other groups at SNS (such as those active at SNS NEST in biophysics, nanophysics and chemistry).
Research projects in which the the Bio@SNS Laboratory of Biology will be involved in the short term are available here (link).
It is foreseen that the new Bio@SNS Laboratory provides to SNS Biology students (and in general to SNS students of all scientific disciplines) the opportunity to be exposed to a significant and competitive representation of present day Biology, and to be introduced to research in a scientifically competitive environment at the international standards. Despite the small size of Scuola Normale and of its academic Staff, the well established network of research collaborations with national and international institutions is a key strength point, to help maintaining a critical mass for scientific exchanges.On the other hand, the small size of Scuola Normale facilitates cross-disciplinary scientific exchanges, and Bio@SNS Laboratory act as a key attraction point for students of different scientific disciplines, aiming at training and nurturing a new generation of Biology students well prepared for the scientific needs of “quantitative Biology”.
Biology is essentially (or predominatly) an experimental science. Students of Biology at the University of Pisa (which SNS students belong to) do not receive an adequate laboratory training. For this reason, our Biology students, starting from their initial years, are required to attend to the laboratories, as part of their didactic duties. Finally, Biology is growing at an incredibly fast pace. We foresee that Bio@SNS, while maintaining a strong scientific focus in Neurobiology and Neurosciences, as described above, could become the SNS infrastructure were new scientific avenues in Biology are discussed, tested and incubated, before being evaluated as new scientific directions of the Scuola Normale.