Week 4 – Mating Galore

Thank you my fellow BSURFers for sharing your projects this past week during the Chalk Talks. It was interesting to see the wide range of research going on this summer and learn about the different topics and techniques used in your research. One of the Chalk Talks that caught my attention was Melissa’s project on the genes underlying neural circuits in male fruit fly courtship behavior.

In her project, she will be looking at how environmental factors affect the expression of the genes Fruitless (Fru), Doublesex (DSX), and Choline Acetyltransferase (ChAT), which have been tied to sexual behavior in male fruit flies. More specifically, ChAT is a gene involved in the production of the acetylcholine and neural circuits involved in courtship behavior. Fru is involved in all courtship behaviors in males, while DSX is expressed at varying levels depending on how much courtship experience male flies have. Male flies with either the wildtype or mutated versions of these genes will either be put into group houses or isolated. While observing how the males respond in the different environments, Melissa can determine what changes were made during gene expression using ChIP, an immunoprecipitation method that tracks interactions between DNA and proteins.

A big reason why I am fascinated by Melissa’s project this summer is because it looks at a behavior in a non-human species. When learning about DNA and genetics in high school, I looked forward to learning more about how environmental changes affect gene expression, which would in turn influence a human’s behavior. Since coming to Duke, I surprisingly became more and more interested in understanding behavior in non-human species, along with the various ways we can study it. Therefore, Melissa’s project appeals to my interest in behavior and genes, and I’m excited to see how her project culminates at the end of the program!

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