Our brains are composed of billions of neurons, wired together in neural circuits that process information from the environment and produce behaviours. My lab is interested in the organization, function, and development of these circuits. We study this problem in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, an organism with a brain that is much simpler than ours (~100,000 neurons compared to our ~100 billion), but still capable of generating complex behaviours. The fly also offers a powerful array of molecular and genetic tools for identifying, manipulating, and measuring the activity of neural circuits. With a focus on the circuits underlying taste perception and feeding behaviour, we are interested in the following questions:
- How are sensory circuits organized? We use behavioural assays to identify new circuit neurons, and imaging of specialized molecular labels to understand how these neurons are connected together in the brain.
- How do neural circuits control behaviour? We use genetic techniques to manipulate neuron activity and measure the behavioural consequences. We also use functional live imaging to measure neural activity in an awake, behaving fly.
- How do neural circuits adapt? We use molecular genetics to manipulate gene function and determine how different molecules modulate circuit activity and fly behaviour.
- How do circuits develop? We use a combination of genetics and behaviour to uncover molecules regulating circuit assembly and understand their roles during development.
Our hope is that answering these questions will reveal fundamental principles of neural circuit assembly and function, and important molecules that regulate feeding. Since many of the characteristics of fly circuits are likely to be conserved in mammals, this should give us insight into our own brain, and how it controls what (and how much) we eat.