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Peter Robin Hiesinger

I am a neurobiologist based in Berlin, Germany, where I run a research laboratory and teach university students at undergraduate and graduate levels.

My lab works on the genetic basis of brain wiring and maintenance. The questions that motivate our work in the lab are indeed the questions laid out in the The Self-Assembling Brain. In practice, this leads to a combination of approaches, from genetic manipulations to the live observation of biological neural networks during their self-assembly. Here is an example for the “time lapse” live observation of neurons in the developing brain of a tiny fruit fly at the very moment the neural network self-assembles and becomes a brain – a look through the eye of a fly:

Langen, M.*, Agi, E.*, Altschuler, D., Wu, L.*, Altschuler, S.*, and Hiesinger, P.R.* (2015) The Developmental Rules of Neural Superposition. Cell, 162(1):120-33 | [PDF]

Everything you see in this movie is genetically encoded – a brain in the process of decoding genomic information to build itself.  How can a genetic program encode such goings-on?  That’s what PhD students and postdocs in my lab are trying to find out using the little fly as a model.

You’ll find more information about the lab, the team, and our publications on the Hiesinger Lab site (be prepared for some vintage 2006 web design!)

How did I get to do this kind of stuff? 

I grew up with my mother, a single mum and full-time administrative assistant, who worked hard to give me the freedom to learn and wonder. The book is dedicated to her memory and to my family, Nevine and Nessim, who continue to support me in more ways than I understand.

Endowed with the privilege to learn and wonder, I first wondered about the natural world and decided to study biology in the early 1990s.  Soon, I wondered whether I was really using my brain to study the world, or whether I was just studying the world in my brain.  I am still wondering.

After a PhD in neurogenetics from the University of Freiburg in Germany in 2000, I worked as a scientist in US medical schools for almost 15 years.  From 2000-2006 I was a postdoctoral researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.  I started my independent research lab at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas in 2006, where I was tenured as associate professor in 2012.  After more than 14 years in Texas without fast food, without TV, without a gun and without the right to vote, I returned to Germany as a professor of neurobiology at the Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin – just to find out that I had become a bit of an alien in my own home country.  Or is that again just the world in my brain (its algorithmic growth and function, as it is described in The Self-Assembling Brain)?

I wrote The Self-Assembling Brain from 2017-2020, partly just to find out.

You can email me directly at contact [at] flygen.org