Drosophila Module


Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Drosophila module will be with us in spirit, if not in person, for the 2021 course. We look forward to their return in 2022!

Our module will focus on the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Students will learn how to pose and answer questions regarding sensorimotor physiology using this model. Methodologically, we will employ modern techniques for quantitative behavior, whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiology, 2-photon calcium imaging, and genetic methods for manipulating neural activity.

In the first days of the module, as an introduction to fly behavior, students will examine visually guided steering of tethered, flying flies in a virtual reality flight simulator. These arenas can be operated in two modes: ‘open-loop’, in which the experimenter presents a visual stimulus to which the flies responds, and 2) ‘closed-loop’ in which the flies themselves control a panoramic visual display by modulating their wing motion (fly virtual-reality). By performing experiments in open- and closed-loop, it is possible to study the functional architecture of the visual and flight control systems of intact, behaving animals. This exercise will expose students to the art of handling Drosophila and performing quantitative behavioral experiments on individual flies, alongside data analysis in Matlab/Python.

Following these initial behavioral studies, students will design and implement independent experiments, in groups of two, that focus on behavioral and physiological measurements to inform computations related to vision, proprioception, audition, and aspects of sensorimotor integration in Drosophila.  These individual projects will again focus on quantitative, behavioral measurements alongside the use of two-photon calcium imaging and whole-cell patch clamping in some groups to form more direct, cellular-level insights.

Together, these exercises and experiments will familiarize students with how to pose and answer questions in the Drosophila system. While relevant methods will be taught, emphasis will be placed on major questions in systems neuroscience and how these are being tackled in the fly system in the modern era.


Fly Flight Module Faculty and Teaching Assistants

Gaby Maimon
Rockefeller University

I have a longstanding interest in integrative/cognitive brain processes. In my early career, I aimed to better understanding how actions are initiated through neurophysiological recordings in awake, behaving monkeys. As a post-doc, I transitioned to studying Drosophila and developed a preparation that allowed one to record the electrical activity of neurons during locomotor (tethered flight) behavior in fruit flies for the first time. My lab uses this preparation, alongside behavioral and anatomical experiments, to understand how fly brains implement higher brain functions. We have a current emphasis on understanding how navigation-related computations are implemented in the insect central complex. The long term goal of this work is to use Drosophila to develop deeper, circuit, cellular and molecular, level understandings of cognition. Such understandings in Drosophila could inspire new approaches and hypotheses on integrative brain functions across other nervous systems, big and small. Gaby was an NS&B faculty member in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2017 and 2018.


JohnTuthillJohn Tuthill
University of Washington

My lab seeks to understand how the nervous system senses and controls the body. A specific question we are pursuing right now is how proprioceptive feedback guides adaptive motor behaviors such as walking and grooming. We are combining genetic tools with electrophysiology and 2-photon imaging to investigate proprioceptive neural coding in sensory neurons and downstream computations in the central nervous system. Ultimately, we want to know how these sensory feedback signals interact with feedforward commands from motor circuits to rapidly and precisely modify walking behavior. We believe that a deep understanding of compact and flexible sensorimotor neural circuits will allow us to develop massive swarms of annoying microrobots. John was an NS&B TA in 2013 and 2015, and has been a faculty member since 2016.



hhmi_37_croppedYvette Fisher
Harvard Medical School

I am a postdoc in Rachel Wilson’s lab at Harvard.  My research is broadly interested in understanding how neurons implement the myriad computations that underlie perception and behavior. I am particularly interested in the role voltage-gated ion channels play in transforming signals within individual neurons. I am currently studying navigation in Drosophila with a focus on how single neuron synaptic and intrinsic properties shape the neural computations involved in visual navigation.  Yvette joined the Drosophila NS&B faculty in 2018.



Stephen Hostephen-holtzltz
Harvard Medical School

I am currently a Graduate Student in Rachel Wilson’s lab at Harvard. My research focuses on the Drosophila auditory system, and developing an understanding of how auditory neurons represent sensory space. I develop and use techniques for performing in vivo recordings while delivering acute stimulation, and construct quantitative models of neural responses. In particular, I am interested in using these models to better understand how different populations of neurons convey particular features of the auditory landscape, and further figuring out if flies are, as is generally suspected, plotting to overthrow the lab. Stephen joined the Drosophila team in 2017.



Sweta Agrawal
University of Washington

I am a postdoc in John Tuthill’s lab at UW. Broadly, I am interested in the evolution of small brains and how scale impacts nervous system function, especially in the context of proprioception. Animals vary in body size and shape, muscle types, locomotor gaits, and environmental niches, meaning their proprioceptive systems potentially face very different challenges. Additionally, even within an animal like Drosophila, the proprioceptive system must often coordinate a broad range of behaviors, such as walking (which occurs at a relatively low speed) or flying (which occurs at a relatively high speed). Through my research, I would like to explore how variations in biomechanical structure, neural processing, and motor systems constrain proprioceptive function. Currently, I am using a combination of in vivo whole cell electrophysiology and 2-photon imaging to study the flow of information from Drosophila limb proprioceptors into central neural circuits. Sweta joined the Drosophila NS&B team in 2019.


Tess Oram
Janelia Research Campus

I am a postdoc in Gwyneth Card’s lab at the HHMI Janelia Research Campus, where I study the mechanisms by which sensorimotor contingencies generate complex behaviors. I combine quantitative behavioral analysis with genetic and electrophysiological techniques to investigate how Drosophila integrate their internal state with environmental stimuli to make ethologically relevant choices.




Peter Mussells Pires
Rockefeller University

I am currently a graduate student in Gaby Maimon’s lab at the Rockefeller University. I am interested in understanding how spatial variables are represented in the brain, and how these representations are used to guide navigation. To this end, I use 2-photon calcium imaging to record the activity of neurons of tethered flies walking in a simple virtual environment.