The neurobiology of spontaneous flight behavior in Drosophila

Drosophila melanogaster has served as an excellent model system for studying the neurobiology of vision and flight in insects. The fly’s single pair of wings is the main component assuring aerial maneuverability of Drosophila. Wing movements are controlled by the combined networks of neural circuitry and muscles to provide the superior flight capabilities of all dipterans.

Since the advent of biological cybernetics in insects in the 1960s, flies were considered as input–output systems, with unique responses to specific stimuli. Any variability in the response to the same stimuli was considered random noise in a complex system. Tethered flight experiments (the Drosophila flight simulator) are especially suited to investigate this variability. Our initial analysis (Maye et al.2007) demonstrated that flies exhibit a non-random but nevertheless unpredictable spontaneous turning behavior in an environment without visual cues.

This project will begin with an attempt to reproduce the same results and further to investigate the spontaneous turning behavior of wild type, mutant and transgenic flies. Transgenic techniques, in a way of either turning on or turning off different brain regions will be used to identify the brain structures required for this spontaneity. Later, learning paradigms will be used to assess the consequences of manipulating spontaneous behavior for operant learning.


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