Because of my research project, I’ve begun to think fruit flies are kind of cute.
My research project revolves around connecting a particular pathway in the brain to a particular behavior. Here is some background information: in the research realm of drosophila (fruit flies), researchers have identified this gene called fruitless (fru). Researchers rely on this gene as a marker that identifies sex-specific behavior pathways in the nervous system. Interestingly enough, only males have a working copy of this gene. We are particularly interested in olfactory system and olfactory receptor neurons which have a large part in the fru pathway (and also have a huge impact in just the daily life of a fruit fly). Researchers have found that fru mutant males (basically males with a nonfunctional version of fru) usually do not court or there’s very diminished courtship, unless they learn to court (similar to conditioning in a way). This learning is not limited to only other female fruit flies of the same species though. And this is where my research project begins.
A previous research paper was able to identify key players in this sex-specific behavior pathway. Even more importantly, they found that courtship behavior can be adaptable – which makes sense. As said by my mentor, if a species can’t adapt then it’s dead (essentially). That is what I’m focusing on. I am currently trying to see if an olfactory receptor neuron known as Or47b is an essential key factor in this adaptable behavior pathway.
As of now, researchers know Or47b to be important in socializing for fruit flies. It correlates to courtship, however it attracts a fly to both females and males (it is not gender specific). We are hypothesizing that olfactory senses and thus Or47b is significant to learning courtship. To test this, I am using many different mutants of fruit flies (and oh my goodness are there a lot for me to handle) and then putting them through different mating tests to track any patterns. For example, in one scenario I put one male fruit fly from each mutant line into its own little vial and leave him there for about 4-6 days and then put him and a wildtype virgin female (up until this research project I never realized how important virgin flies were) into a mating chamber – yes, a mating chamber and a very exquisite one at that.
Then I just watch them creepily for about 10 minutes and record which pairs mated and which didn’t. I am also planning to take isolated male flies and group them with other female flies (and maybe other male flies) for about a week and then test them everyday in the mating chamber with one other female virgin to see what happens. Hopefully, I’ve explained the gist of what I’m doing.
So currently my mentor is studying many things in her lab including how neuronal circuits interact with each other and produce a particular behavior. She is also studying how these behaviors are regulated and how it sometimes leads to adaptation. She is very interested in the development aspect of fruit flies, especially in the olfactory circuitry. This all directly correlates with my project because my project makes use of an already identified neural circuitry and tries to see how one particular neuron receptor can affect the whole thing, including the end result (the behavior of the fruit flies). This is all to explore more into the complex nervous system and try to understand what’s going on and how behavior is what it is.