Prof Barry Dickson

Project 1: Neursal Mechanisms of Drosophila locomotion

As animals walk, run, or hop, motor circuits in the spinal cord convert descending “command” signals from the brain into the coordinated movements of many different leg muscles. How are command signals from the brain deconvolved into the appropriate patterns motor neuron activity?

We aim to answer this question for Drosophila by studying the functional organization of leg motor circuits in the ventral nerve cord, the fly’s analogue of the spinal cord. In Drosophila, individual neuronal cell types can be reproducibly identified and manipulated using genetic reagents that have been developed to target specific descending neurons, interneurons, or motor neurons.

In your thesis project, you will learn a range of methods including genetics, multiphoton imaging, optogenetics and quantitative behavioural analysis, and use these methods to elucidate the structure and function of the motor circuits controlled by a specific class of descending neuron. This may be, for example, a descending neuron that, when activated, causes the fly to walk backwards (see Bidaye et al, Science 6179:97), or one that elicits turning. Understanding the circuit mechanisms behind those simple actions will shed light on general computational principles of neural networks, and may even help us to design smarter robot.

How to apply