This summer, I had the exciting opportunity to conduct research in Dr. Kayser’s lab. The Kayser Lab had previously found a population of neurons that induced juvenile aggression in Drosophila when activated. The goal of my project this summer was to test if these neurons also promote courtship, and if so, isolate the subpopulation of neurons that are promoting the behavior. Social behaviors like aggression and courtship are genetically hard wired in fly brains and are highly plastic, indicating that these circuits are highly dynamic and modifiable. Aberrant development of social behaviors early in life is a distinctive feature of neurodevelopmental disorders, demonstrating the importance of mapping out the neural circuits involved in the development of these social behaviors.
The beginning of my summer was marked by an introduction into the genetic tools used in fly research. Specifically, I learned how the Gal4 UAS TrpA1 system can be used to selectively activate neurons in the fly brain and how this system could be applied in my project. In addition, I learned the basics of fly pushing, including how to select desired flies and how to build various genetic constructs.
Working on this project has allowed me to become fully immersed in a lab setting and understand how and why research is conducted. It taught me that science requires a lot of patience and that the grunt work done on a day-to-day basis is just as important as the final product. In addition, it has allowed me to engage with lab members who are in all different stages of their educational or career paths, giving me insight into the opportunities and lifestyles that come with research.