Yuki Oka, assistant professor of biology and neuroscience, has been awarded the 2018 Ajinomoto Award for Young Investigators in Gustation or Oral Chemosensation. The award, given by the Association for Chemoreception Scientists and funded by the Ajinomoto Corporation, is given annually to an outstanding junior scientist who is an emerging leader in the field of taste and related chemical senses.
Oka's research focuses on the study of how the brain and body work together to maintain the body's internal environment, a process called homeostasis. Using mice as a model organism, his group previously identified a candidate water sensor in the oral cavity that contributes to the detection of water. Recently, he and his group published work mapping the neural circuit driving and quenching thirst—in other words, how certain regions in the brain known to encode for drinking behaviors are hierarchically connected.
Oka was named a Searle Scholar in 2015 and a McKnight scholar in 2016. Also in 2016, he received a Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship Award. Prior to arriving at Caltech, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University, where he studied salt-sensing mechanisms in the mammalian taste system. Oka is an affiliated faculty member of the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience at Caltech.