When I was placed in the Volkan lab and took a tour back in May I was fascinated, but I had my doubts. What could we possibly learn about human neurobiology by studying Drosophila? Can I get a handle on these complex biological techniques in 8 weeks? How am I going to dissect a fly brain??
Upon arriving, my mentor Qichen really helped bridge the gap between the work we plan to do in the lab and my understanding of neuroscience. He explained to me that the human brain as we know is an incredibly complex system. The brain consists of around 80 billion neurons and 100 trillion specific synaptic connections, making the study of its development and organization highly complicated (Barish et. al., 2018). He explained to me that this makes Drosophila the ideal model organism and its olfactory circuit the ideal system to study to get a better understanding of how neurons sort and make very specific connections to allow for the proper function of the system. Through previous research, our lab has identified a family of proteins dubbed DPRs, defective proboscis response proteins, and their binding partners called DIPs, DPR interacting proteins, to be essential for regulating the positioning and structure of glomeruli in the olfactory system (Barish et. al., 2018).
This summer, my project will focus on the role of one specific protein in this family, DIP-alpha. My major goals are to discover its expression pattern, in specific olfactory receptor neurons, and to genetically perturb its function. The first goal will be accomplished using genetic labeling and antibody staining of both the Drosophila antennae and brain, and the second goal will be attained by down-regulating DIP-alpha in specific classes of olfactory receptor neurons to investigate what happens in the protein’s absence. So far, I have been honing in on my dissection skills and familiarizing myself with the staining and imaging process. In the coming weeks, I hope to get some fascinating data that leads us closer to understanding the development of this circuitry. And if I don’t, at least I can dissect a fly brain!