Fred Rieke was a physics undergraduate and graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. His graduate work focused on theoretical studies of how signals are encoded in the nervous system. After graduating in 1991, he went to the University of Chicago as a postdoctoral fellow with Eric Schwartz, working on the mechanisms regulating synaptic communication between cells in the retina. He did a second postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University with Denis Baylor, working on how light is transduced into an electrical signal by photoreceptors in the retina. He joined the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Washington in 1997 and has been there since.
Work in the Rieke lab focuses on how computations of behavioral significance are implemented by biophysical mechanisms. Signaling in the retina provides several unique advantages to studying this general question, namely the wealth of anatomical work about cell types and connections, the accessibility of the circuit to biophysical experiments, and the importance for visually guided behavior. Current work is focused on three issues: how the rods generate reliable and reproducible responses to single absorbed photons, how the retinal readout of the rod responses supports vision in starlight, the origin and functional impact of noise in cone photoreceptors, and how signals from different parallel readouts of the rod and cone signals interact both in the retina and perceptually.