Mapping the Neural Circuits Controlling a Motor Sequence in Flies



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Project Description

JOIN OUR CONNECTOME TEAM for real remote research experience!  Positions available starting Winter Quarter 2021.
Imagine trying to ride the LA or NYC metro system without a map.  It would be hard to get where you wanted to go.  Imagine what you could learn about the important places in Tokyo or Hong Kong by looking at its subway map.  Can you find the tunnels and bridges?
A map of the brain's neural connections would help us understand how it controls behavior.  Recent advances in data collection and image analysis software from Janelia, Harvard, and Google have made complete “connectomes” feasible for some model organisms.  Optogenetic manipulations and functional imaging connects neurons to behavioral consequences.   In this team project, you would trace novel neural circuits in the brain and ventral nerve cord of the fruit fly that control and coordinate the grooming motor sequence.
Our brains helps us choose among available behaviors and then execute them effectively.  We study the neural circuits that accomplish these functions in the fruit fly grooming behavior sequence.  The compact nervous system and excellent genetic tools make this work doable in flies - but it is relevant much more broadly, since the sensory comparisons and motor coordination required are performed by circuit connectivity motifs shared by many brains.  This is basic research with human health implications.  

Undergraduate Contribution

This is an exiting time for systems neuroscience.  There are opportunities to discover circuit motifs and explain behavioral observations by identifying new neural connections.  This work can be done remotely and safely, with training and collaborations by Zoom.  
You would be exposed to cutting-edge anatomy and microscopy data, image analysis software, and graph theory for network interpretation.  You would read science papers for background, trace new neurons for ongoing science projects, and meet weekly to share results.  Initially, you would work with a team of peers with the opportunity to develop independent specialties suitable for honors theses in future.   

This is genuine research - the circuits you will trace start from my lab’s behavioral discoveries - and will provide you with experience in experimental design, data analysis, and neuroscience suitable for graduate or medical school applications and biotech or computer industry positions. 

Requirements/Application Instructions

  • Academic proficiency - evidence that you can handle a research commitment on top of your primary course load
  • Access to a reasonably-powered computer and internet
  • Attendance and presentation at a weekly team meeting (Thursday 12noon).
  • A commitment to 50 hours per quarter is required for 1 credit of MCDB99 or 199.  
  • Computer skills (programming and/or familiarity with image analysis or machine learning software) is a plus. 
Read this article describing the potential for scientific discovery using electron microscopy-based circuit reconstruction:
We will focus on the ventral nerve cord, a much less well-charted region that coordinates the fly’s motor system.
Email me ( a description of your research interests and/or experience, including an unofficial academic transcript.  Indicate the time you would commit and your schedule for the quarter.  I will send you a Zoom link for a team orientation meeting January 4th at noon.