Melvyn Yap

Born and raised in the city of Kuala Lumpur, I was blessed with an infinite variety of delicious food and a temperate tropical climate. In 2004, I gave up this life to pursue a Bachelor of Psychological Science at the University of Queensland (UQ), given that at that time, psychology courses were nearly unheard of in Malaysia. My curiosity of the human brain has driven me to this academic field. Upon graduation, I wasn’t ready yet for graduate studies, so I spent a year working as a Research Assistant in public health research at the University of New South Wales. There, I continued to develop my research skills and co-authored two publications.

Oddly enough, while I was working in the public health area, I have an increasing interest in the field of neuroscience. I soon realised that all along neuroscience should have been the focus of my academic career, as I am deeply intrigue by the physical mechanisms of the brain. Naturally, I return to UQ to take up a Master of Neuroscience at the Queensland Brain Institute. My first neuroscience lab experience was examining the morphology of motor neurons in Caenorhabditis elegans mutants. This is followed by a lab rotation in Bruno van Swinderen’s lab, where I studied the behavioural visual responsiveness of sleep-deprived fruit flies. Being newly introduced into the field, I was overwhelmed by the amount of exciting new and ongoing research in the field of neuroscience.

Sleep has always been a puzzling phenomenon to me. Everyone sleeps, and many of us wish that we can live with less sleep, but few are baffled by the question of why we need to sleep, and what goes on inside the brain while we sleep. Historically, sleep research has largely focused on sleep disorders… until a decade ago, when Shaw and Hendricks co-discovered sleep in fruit flies. Drosophila with its wealth of genetic tools and the discovery of sleep opened up a whole new area of sleep research: the molecular and cellular function of sleep. My constant fascination with sleep and a growing interest in working with Drosophila led me to return to Bruno’s lab to embark on a PhD project.

My PhD project will explore the neural correlates of sleep, in the form of electrical signatures in a single or a group of neurons associated with sleep. The project combines a variety of techniques in genetics, behaviour, electrophysiology, and brain imaging. The outcome of my research project will hopefully bring us a step closer to understanding the function of sleep at the molecular and cellular level.