Duncan Leitch

Degrees / Credentials

PhD (Vanderbilt University), BS (Vanderbilt University)


Assistant Professor, Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, UBC


Full Member

I completed my undergraduate degrees in mathematics and neuroscience, followed by a PhD in systems neuroscience with Dr. Ken Catania (Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, US). My doctoral thesis focused on comparative mechanosensory neurophysiology with a particular focus on novel sensory organs in diverse vertebrates. Following grad school, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California – San Francisco with Dr. David Julius, where I studied the molecular basis of the unusual sense of electroreception in elasmobranch fishes. My colleagues and I identified novel mutations in voltage-gated calcium and sodium channels that mediated neural responses to low threshold electrical fields using physiological, genetic, and behaviourally analyses. Starting in March 2020, I became a faculty member in UBC Zoology. My lab studies diverse sensory adaptations in vertebrates, using transcriptomic, physiological, and behavioural approaches to identify mechanisms of nervous system adaptation. These novel project include looking at sensory system organization in diverse reptile, amphibian, and fish taxa.

Contact Info

Lab Phone
Mailing Address
3323-6270 University Boulevard
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4

Research Information

A fundamental unanswered question of neuroscience is the specific identification of the neural correlates of behavior. Drawing from my graduate and postdoctoral experiences, my lab integrates classical neuroethological/ behavioral methods with modern cellular and molecular techniques to pursue new questions of nervous system adaptation, physiology, and evolution. My long-term research goals focus on combining comparative genetic, functional, and behavioral approaches to understand the diversity and evolution of vertebrate nervous systems with an initial exploration of the lateral line-mediated senses as window to examine these topics. I am fascinated by the distinctive diversity in nervous system organization and adaptation of living vertebrates, especially in the context of appreciating the sensory worlds these organisms inhabit. The lateral line system is an ancient suite of distinct sensory organs united by shared developmental and phylogenetic origins and is found in extant fishes and aquatic amphibians. Indeed, it shares a similar developmental patterning and neural organization to more commonly appreciated vertebrate auditory system, yet the lateral line facilitates seemingly exotic sensory systems through specific sensory organs. These sense organs include flow- sensing mechanosensory neuromasts that mediate schooling, predation, and rheotaxis and electroreceptor organs that facilitate the detection of biogenic electric fields related to predation, navigation, and communication. The remarkably diverse range of vertebrates that possess the lateral line (and convergently evolved hydrodynamic sense organs) offer a unique opportunity to examine the interplay between sensory biology, nervous system organization, and ultimately, behavior.



  • sensory neuroscience
  • somatosensation
  • electroreception
  • mechanotransduction
  • comparative neurobiology
  • evolutionary neuroscience
  • pain signalling
  • ion channels