Brain is Diverse, so are WE

Mubarak Hussain Syed (The FlyGuy)

I was born and raised in the beautiful Kashmir. After finishing my MS in Biochemistry from The University of Kashmir, I set on a journey to explore the mysteries of life and the fruit fly brain. I got into science through a Developmental Biology course organized by Benny Shilo at the National Center for Biological Sciences Bangalore. The initial training and mentoring by the late Veronica Rodriguez prepared me for graduate school. Through the Max Planck PhD program, I got to work on glial cell development and function with Christian Kalembt at the University of Muenster, Germany. During my postdoctoral work with Chris Doe, I identified temporal patterning mechanisms within neural stem cells and a new concept of hormonal regulation of temporal gene expression within neural stem cells. 

In 2019, I started the Neural Diversity Lab at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, where we study the specification of complex behaviors - from stem cells to the complex behaviors. We had wonderful collaborators who are experts in circuits and behaviors - Kathy Nagel, Matthew Kayser, Monica Dus, and Vivek Jayaraman. I have established the Pueblo Brain Science: Building Diversity in Neuroscience initiative in New Mexico, and the goal is to train, mentor, and engage local students and communities, especially Native American Communities. Thanks to the Pueblo leaders and community for considering us part of their lives and providing us the opportunity - You can read more about these initiatives here and here in my recent Current Biology QA

Our research is funded through the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Health, the Sloan Foundation, the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, and the Department of Defense. Thanks to all these funding agencies, especially the National Science Foundation, I was awarded the NSF CAREER award, which laid the foundation for our science and diversity in science initiatives.

I get excited about science, science advocacy, diversity, open access, traveling, running, hiking, and playing cricket. I spend most of my free time outdoors with my kid, exploring amazing nature and mentoring at JKScientists. Global Scientist tweeting @neuroseq

Linking Stem Cells to Neural Circuits and Behavior: Thanks to these experts and cool collaborators-

Dr. Katherine Nagel                                                                     Faculty NYU Langone Medical Center                       

Dr. Matthew Kayser, Faculty Perleman school of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Monica Dus                                                                              Faculty University of Michigan                                                               

Dr. Vivek Jayaraman                                                              HHMI Investigator, Janelia Research Campus (Janelia Visiting Scientist Project"


Qussin Basharat Joo (The Fly Doctor)

I am interested in epigenetic modifications during in-utero development, particularly those induced by lifestyle and emotions. I teach genetics, epigenetics and Development at the UNM. In my free time, I volunteer at the Neural diversity lab to understand the cell-signaling mechanisms that enable the progression from stem cells to circuits. I  enjoy time with my kids, reading, teaching, and outdoors.

Graduate Research Scholars

Adil Rashid Wani

I received my masters in Clinical Biochemistry from the University of Kashmir (India). Before joining the neural diversity lab as Graduate Student, I worked as the project assistant in Dr. Saibal Chatterjee’s Laboratory, at the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore (India) where I worked on understanding the role of miRNasome (microRNA turnover complex) in miRNA turnover pathways in C. elegans.

The curiosity that initiated my interest in neuroscience and neurobiology is the diversity of the tasks the brain can perform which in turn is reflected in the diverseness of the neurons that it is composed of. These neurons procreate from progenitor stem cells, which divide and produce these different cell types one after the other. But how do these progenitors manage to generate specific and diverse types of neurons in the right place at the right time?

My work in the lab will involve exploring the cellular and molecular programs regulating the fate specification and identity of sleep neurons in  Drosophila, and elucidating the targets of RNA binding proteins which may be playing a crucial role in generating the neural diversity.

The things which keep me motivated and energetic apart from the lab include Hiking, Reading, Playing Cricket and Poetry.

Aisha Hamid

"My inquisitiveness roots from a recombinant DNA technology course in my master's degree. I started my research experience with microbiology, studying orthologs of a peptidoglycan hydrolase in Gram-negative bacteria. Later I was interested in different signaling pathways regulating the cellular processes and studied the molecular mechanism of a unique non-enzymatic post-translational modification in eukaryotes known as pyro-phosphorylation. Intrigued by the concept of memory and neural circuits involved, and much more so by the microscopic images of the fly brain, I started studying neurogenesis. I intend to understand how various intrinsic and extrinsic cues regulate neurogenesis. I spend my time off organizing, and planning, and the me-time reading, painting and listening to music. I am pensive, taciturn, a naturalist, and an aesthete. "

Tulaib Azam

More to come here 

Ethan Kato Wilson

PREP Scholar 


Shí éí Ethan Cato Wilson yinishyé.

Hashk'aa hadzohi nishłį́

Kiyaa'aanii bashishchiin

'Ashiihi dashicheii

Ma'ii deeshgiizhinii dashinalí.

Hello! My name is Ethan Cato Wilson, and I am a PREP scholar. In my Navajo culture, I am Yucca Fruit-Strung-Out-In-A-Line, born from the Towering House. My maternal grandfather's clan is the Salt People, and my paternal grandfather's clan is the Coyote Pass Jemez. 

During my undergraduate studies, I was fortunate to attend Professor Syed's NeuroCURE class to gain research experience that I missed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the course, we investigated various genes that encode different proteins involved in the neural development of Drosophila melanogaster. We learned about the mighty fruit flies and neurogenetics and got training on conducting neuroscience research. After receiving my Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from UNM, I decided to continue exploring the fly brain with a particular interest in the IGF-II mRNA-binding protein and its effect on neural development and behavior.

Research Assistant

Undergraduate Research Trainees

Alexa González (U-RISE Scholar)

Holla, my name is Alexa González and I am a second-year student at UNM. While pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Biology and Spanish with a minor in Chemistry, I encountered the opportunity to participate in research through the Neural Diversity Lab. Although I would have never imagined taking this route, I was soon amazed by the contributions  Drosophila research has established in the field of science. I was also impressed by the hospitality and assistance of the laboratory members. I am now pleased to begin my journey in the study of Drosophila olfactory and navigation systems. Undoubtedly, Research will continue to be a pillar of my overall success. In the future, I plan to obtain a medical degree and travel. Outside of academics, I love spending time with family, learning more about my Latin culture,  trying new dishes, and art viewing.

Renae Simonson (McNair Scholar)

Hi, my name is Renae. I am an undergraduate with a major in Biology and a minor in Psychology. I am very interested in people, especially eccentric people. I want to know more about why people think and behave the way they do. I also want to learn more about how the brain functions at the molecular level. These strong interests led me to join Dr. Syed's Lab. At present, my goals are to graduate with my bachelor's, learn neuroscience techniques, learn all I can from the people around me, and of course learn from the fruit flies we are researching. Looking ahead, I want to complete graduate school and eventually have fun contributing to the field of neuroscience research. Other things I really like are spending time with family and friends, playing a friendly game or two of volleyball, listening to music, exploring places, and cooking new recipes.

Nicholas Redhouse

Dinék’ehjí Ádééhojilzįįh (Navajo Introduction):

Yá’át’ééh (Hello),

Nicholas Orion Redhouse yinishyé (My name is Nicholas Orion Redhouse).

Honágháahnii nishłį́ (I am of [mother’s clan] One Who Walks Around).

Tsé ní jíkiní báshíshchíín (I am born for [father’s clan] Honey Combed Rock/Cliff Dwellers).

Tábąąhí dashicheii (My maternal grandfather’s clan is Waters Edge).

Tsé nababiłnii dashinálí (My paternal grandfather’s clan is 

Sleep Rock People).

Naat’áaniinéézdi shi’dizhchį́ (I was born in Shiprock, NM).

Bááhdíilid dee naashá (I am from Upper Fruitland, NM).

Bááhdíilid di shighan (My home is Upper Fruitland, NM).

Kót’éego Diné nishłį́ (This is who I am [Navajo man]).



Hello😊! My name is Nicholas Redhouse. I am currently a 3rd-year transfer student with a dual degree in BS-Biochemistry & BA-Business Administration (Finance), as well as minoring in Military Studies with UNM’s Army ROTC. I came upon the opportunity to research at Dr. Syed’s Neural Diversity Lab through an outreach he had at the San Juan community college I transferred from. I am excited to learn many fundamentals of science and brain development using fruit flies as a model system. My goal is to attain both Biochemistry and Business degrees and hopefully be able to attend either Graduate School or Medical School at the University of New Mexico. I enjoy being part of the military by helping my state through missions within the New Mexico Army National Guard. I helped open a few clubs, such as the Lobo Chess Club and the American Society of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, at our campus to help assist in preparing my peers for the professional development of their education and careers. I really look forward to exploring the mysteries of the brain in the Neural Diversity Lab, as well as getting to meet new people in my education path.

Ashley Olson

Hi, my name is Ashley Olson.  I grew up in Missouri, where I completed my first bachelor’s in Geology at Missouri University of Science and Technology.  Before coming to New Mexico, I worked as a field paleontologist and for the DNR.  Now, I am currently working on my second bachelor’s at UNM in biology (minor in chemistry).  I became interested in neuroscience after taking genetics and am currently trying to learn all that I can about it so I can start my Ph.D. 

I have a lot of energy, so I have many interests outside of science as well.  I am often seen including my kids when I exercise and play music, two of my favorite pursuits.  I enjoy longer races like marathons and triathlons (although my kids prefer shorter distances), and I play guitar, bass, and keys in a band (among other instruments).  Reading, chess, and being outside are also fun for me and my family.   

Nazrawit Tedrose

Hello, my name is Nazrawit, and I am an undergraduate in Biology here at the University of New Mexico. I am from Eritrea and grew up in Washington, D.C. I have a passion for biology and figuring out some of life's big questions, such as about the human microbiome or the human brain. This is my last semester as an undergraduate, and moving forward, I hope to continue my schooling, gain more knowledge, and ideally pursue a scientific career that satisfies my curiosity. 

Krishna Patel and the VR - Now  a Graduate student in ME, UNM

As an undergraduate researcher at Syed Lab, I am grateful for the unique opportunity to work on amazing devices used in fruit fly research. Currently, I am working on building an ethoscope, which is a small device built with 3D printed parts and running on a raspberry pi, that can track the motion of many flies in real-time. I hope to leverage the power of machine learning and AI, along with new innovative modes of manufacturing, to bring low-cost and high-throughput tools into the fly lab workflow for sleep, olfactory, optomechanical, and locomotion assays. 

I am a returning student, currently pursuing a Biochemistry and English major preparing for the PhD/MD pathway. I decided to go back to school to learn more about the human brain, or brains in general, because I believe that neural interfacing will bring about amazing changes in our lifetime. My goal is to apply my education in entrepreneurial and non-profit endeavors.

To fill the gaps, I play Indian classical sitar along with a few other instruments, produce my own music, and sometimes work on small film/photography projects. I enjoy coding, 3D modeling/printing, anything to do with lasers, high voltages, and automated movement. My 2 dogs and 2 dog-like cats make for great company on my quest to stay busy for as long as I possibly can.

High School Research Trainees

Ana-Adela Duran

Albuquerque Academy  (Spring 2024

Hi, I am Ana-Adela Duran, a senior at Albuquerque Academy in Albuquerque, NM. Science has always interested me, and while working in this lab, I discovered how exciting research on fruit flies can be. Working in the lab has taught me skills I could have never learned in the classroom, like dissecting adult fly brains, making fly food, and seeing different expression patterns within flies. I enjoy competitively swimming, playing piano, biking, and hanging out with my friends when I have free time.

Gabriele Sanchez 

Albuquerque Academy (Summer 2024) 

“more to come here soon..

Kyuryeon Kim

La Cueva High School (Summer 2023) 

Hello, my name is Kyuryeon Kim and I’m a rising junior at La Cueva High School. I have not yet decided on which field I will major in, but I have always been interested in the field of biology. I’ve learned so much from participating in the lab, not just about flies but about biology and technology as well. I’m very grateful that this opportunity has allowed me to indulge in activities that most high schoolers couldn’t even think of. In my free time, I like to talk to my friends, play video games, and spend time with my dog. 

Kriday Andiboina

Clovis High School (Summer 2023) 

“This summer, I am continuing my research internship in the Neural Diversity Lab and am building PiVR to assay fruit fly behavior.” see my interests below!

George Rule 

Albuquerque Academy (Summer 2023)       

More to come here 

Yasmine Mercer

Las Cruces High School (Summer 2022)

Hi, my name is Yasmine Mercer, and I am going to be a sophomore in high school at Las Cruces New Mexico.  I have been interested in the biology field for many years and I am planning on perusing biology as my future career. I really enjoy learning and experimenting with things that interest me such as what I am doing in the fruit fly lab. I also enjoy many other things. For example, traveling, art/painting, being with family, and being outside.

Kriday Andiboina

Clovis High School (Summer 2022) 

“Hi, my name is Kriday Andiboina. I am a junior at Clovis High School in Clovis, NM. I became intrigued by neurology when I realized just how much power the brain has over us. The neural diversity lab allows me to experiment with fruit flies and equipment beyond my high school years. My goal is to practice neurology and continue research throughout my college years. I hope to sometime teach others as well. Some of my hobbies include competitively swimming, playing chess, traveling, and spending time with my brother”.

Sienna Allen

The Public Academy for Performing Arts in Albuquerque (Summer 2022)       

Hello! My name is Sienna Allen. I am going to be a sophomore in high school this fall at The Public Academy for Performing Arts in Albuquerque, NM. Although I have yet to decide what career field I wish to go into, biology has always been an interest of mine and I would love to do more with it in the future. Working in the lab has taught me so many things that I would never learn in a classroom and I love that I can contribute to research that is helping to make the world a better place. In my free time, I enjoy listening to music, painting, and spending time in nature. 

Gone but not forgotten 

Fernando Figueroa Santiago 

Current Positions - Graduate student at the University of Puerto Rico, Institute of Neurobiology   

I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao. Here, I started my path in science, first working with Dr. Diaz in an entomology lab, looking at the relationship between mites and plants. During my time in this lab, a passion for neuroscience and developmental biology started to rise. This led me to work for two years at the Institute of Neurobiology of Puerto Rico under the mentorship of Dr. Andrew Seeds and Dr. Stefanie Hampel. Here, I learned how to trace and proofread using Flywire, a connectomics tool. I also learned about the grooming circuit and behavior in the fruit fly; this new understanding of how behaviors and circuits work led me to a bigger interest in development within the nervous system. Now, in the Diversity Lab, I’m interested in looking at how two different lineages communicate with each other during development. Because of this, I’m looking at the migration pattern of the chiasm glia in the fruitfly and their potential roles in the optic lobe. Although I’m still figuring things out in my science journey, I’m really passionate about making science accessible to everyone. I’m particularly interested in making neuroscience more accessible back home in Puerto Rico.

Gonzalo Nahim Chaya 2001-2003

Current Position - Graduate School University of Oregon

Hola, my name is Gonzalo Morales Chaya and this is my third year at UNM as an international student from Tucumán, Argentina. I have various interests and as such, I am double majoring in Biochemistry and French, with a minor in Computer Science. While spending my time at the Syed Lab, I fell in love with neuroscience, specifically with the “puzzle" of neuronal diversity. In a near future, I want to continue in the research field and apply for a PhD in biotechnology/biomedical engineering. 

Overwhelmed with discouraging commentaries, I was drawn to research by Syed, the one professor who told me “you can do it.” I love learning, traveling and I am highly motivated to continue my studies once I graduate.

Brandi Hess (U-RISE Scholar) -2022 

Brandi decided to study mice on the North Campus 

Hello! My name is Brandi Hess and I am currently working on my B.S. at UNM in Biochemistry while working in Syed’s lab conducting research. I became interested in neuroscience after discovering my love of psychology and paring that passion with my love of biology and chemistry. While working on my undergraduate I took a course with Dr. Ryan Kelly, the Child and Family Studies graduate coordinator at UNM, and during lectures, we touched heavily on the developmental hindrance that trauma causes to children.


My time in Dr. Kelly’s course fueled my research interests related to neuronal remodeling in Drosophila that happens during the pupa stage and the relation to neural preening in adolescents. This closely ties to current research being done in the Neural diversity lab relating to steroid hormone ecdysone mediated temporal patterning in neural stem cells during development. I hope to apply to a Ph.D. program and start a career as a research scientist in the biomedical field. 


Outside of the lab, I am the mother of a beautiful baby boy, he is the center of my world, and in all of the work that I do, it is my hope that he will be able to benefit from it down the line. I love spending time with him outside, as well as having the chance to guide him through new experiences so he may learn more about the world while developing a healthy curiosity.

Andrew Gutierrez (Research Assistant 2021-22) - Andrew got GRFP and is now continuing graduate school at UNM

My name is Andrew Gutierrez. I graduated from UNM with a B.S. in Biology. I have always had an interest in the field of embryologic development as well as how the process may be altered and studied through genetic engineering techniques. My current focus in the lab is how external signals affect temporal identity and overall CNS development in fruit flies. I hope to use the skills and experiences I have and will gain in the Neural Diversity Lab to become a better researcher in developmental biology. Besides research, my passions include music, painting, dancing, video games, programming, anime/manga, and traveling.

Sean Maez 2021-22 

Current position: Health Sciences UNM - MD program

Hello my name is Sean Maez.  This is my fourth year at UNM and I am majoring in Biology. I was first introduced to the Neural Diversity Lab during my Genetics class that was taught by Dr. Joo and Dr. Syed. I was immediately intrigued by the research in this lab, and have been part of this diverse lab since then. I am aiming to understand the developmental mechanisms regulating sleep behavior n Drosophila.  Outside of lab and my schoolwork, I enjoy participating in sports and traveling.  My goal is to apply to various MD/Ph.D. programs to continue my work in the biomedical field.   

Lindsey Thomas, 2022 

“Hello! I moved to Albuquerque from my hometown Ruidoso, New Mexico in 2017 to start my college adventure. I am going for a bachelor's in Biology and then plan to continue for a Ph.D. to further my career in science as a researcher. I took the NeuroCure class with Dr. Syed, that was my first exposure to research and fruit flies. As an undergraduate researcher, I am now using Drosophila Melanogaster to study the diversity of the most complicated organ in the body, the brain. By finding conserved genes and pathways that regulate neural development in fruit flies, we advance our knowledge about the human brain. Outside of the lab, I love to spend time with my dogs, hiking or taking them to the river. I also love to travel and explore the world around me.”

Aysu Nora Caglar (2019-2022) -

Current position: Health Sciences UNM - MD program

Hello! My name is Aysu Nora Caglar and I am currently a Junior majoring in Biochemistry. Currently, I am working on characterizing various neural type markers labelling the fruit fly central complex. Other than studying and working at Syed Lab, I love to spend time outdoors, go skiing, and hiking. I also worked as a tutor for UNM, as a ski instructor during winter break and I am also a Nurse Assistant for a pediatric MD. In the future, I want to continue researching different neurodevelopmental disorders and discover more about the amazing human brain through Drosophila! For my academic career goals, I want to end up applying to MD/PhD programs around the United States and travel!

Kamila Giermakowski Rios (Spring 2022)

Current position: Undergraduate at Barnard College

My name is Kamila Giermakowski Rios, I am a current high school senior at Albuquerque Academy. I will be heading to Barnard College of Columbia University in the fall, to get a B.S. in Neuroscience and Behavior on a pre-med track. Neuroscience interests me because there is still a lot of research to be done on the complex systems in the brain and a lot of good can be done through the field. I hope to work in research throughout my undergraduate years. When I am not focused on my scientific studies, I spend my time painting, dancing, and skiing.

Naima Pyarali (Spring 2022)

Current position: Undergraduate at Washington University St. Luis

Hello. My name is Naima Pyarali and I am a senior at Albuquerque Academy. I have always loved science and I hope to go into research in college. At school, I have been working with fruit flies and I have loved hands-on lab opportunities. The Neural Diversity Lab is a wonderful extension of the work I have done in school while also advancing my research skills. Outside of academics, I spend a lot of my time in Speech and Debate and I love taking pictures. 

Noreen Rizvi (2020/21)

Noreen is working as a nurse practitioner 

Hello, my name is Noreen and this is my fourth year here at UNM. I graduated this past August with my Bachelor of Science in nursing. As a nursing student, I worked as an intern in the trauma surgical ICU and found a great liking to it. I am currently working on uncovering the complex behaviors associated with fetal alcohol syndrome, specifically sleep and aggression. This is a subject matter I am passionate about, as I have seen the consequences of this disease process in the clinical setting quite often and hope to play a role in decreasing its prevalence within our community. Outside of the lab, I enjoy spending as much time as I can outdoors, biking, hiking, and recently snowboarding. I’m also a Bob Ross fan, painting one happy tree at a time.

Jacob Bonnafoux (2019/20)   Current position: MD UNM

Alexander Cordova (2020)

I am Alexander (Xander) Cordova and I am from a tiny town in the northeast corner of New Mexico. I found a love for nature and science growing up in the land of enchantment and am a happy father of five kids. I am deeply passionate about research and the power it holds to unlock new doors. This is my first lab experience where I am looking to explore drug abuse and anxiety as it relates to pathology. I want to find new ways to treat people who struggle with drug addiction looking to restore the minds of people who may not have taken the best care of themselves over the years. I look forward to recruiting new minds to the field of neuroscience as a community outreach advocate for this lab. I absolutely love working with kids because they are the future, and the future of science is the brain so it follows naturally for me to stimulate young minds to be curious about the brain.