A 2023 Crick PhD project with Michael Winding.
Project background and description
Our lab studies the neural circuit basis of social interaction. We use whole brain connectomics to uncover synapse-resolution brain structure, and a combination of functional imaging and behavioural optogenetics to link synaptic structure to circuit function.
Social interactions are fundamental to animals, influencing behaviour and decision making. Cooperative behaviours in particular drive the most complex human phenomena, including art, culture, and society. Individuals must continuously choose between acting cooperatively or competitively, but the neural circuit mechanisms underlying such decisions are poorly understood.
Our lab uses the larva of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, an established model with powerful genetic tools that engages in complex social behaviours. While foraging for food, individual animals choose between competitively foraging on their own and joining forces in cooperative digging groups . Such decisions involve a sort of neuroeconomics, where the costs and benefits of competitive and cooperative behaviours are compared before selecting an action.
The PhD project will focus on identifying the neurons and circuit mechanisms of cooperative and competitive behaviours. This project will build upon the extensive resources that we have developed in the larva, including a synapse-resolution circuit map, or connectome, of the entire brain  and a library of genetic driver lines, which provides experimental access to record or manipulate the neural activity of circuit elements in the connectome [3, 4]. The project will be shaped by the interests of the student within this framework, with opportunities to investigate how social isolation affects cooperative behaviour, the role of genes associated with neuropsychiatric disorders in building cooperative circuits, or social network dynamics across groups of individuals. The student will gain experience in both wet-lab techniques, including behavioural, functional imaging, and optogenetic experiments, and computational work, including connectomics and network science analysis.
This project would suit candidates with degrees in neuroscience, biosciences, or quantitative fields, provided there is a strong interest in experimental biology. Candidates should be enthusiastic about neuroscience and eager to learn experimental techniques and computational analyses. No previous experience with fruit flies is necessary. Because we analyse complex datasets, quantitative or programming skills (python ideally) would be beneficial, but there will be opportunities to develop these skills throughout the project. Experience with light microscopy (particularly two-photon microscopy) would also be beneficial, but not strictly necessary.
1. Dombrovski, M., Poussard, L., Moalem, K., Kmecova, L., Hogan, N., Schott, E., . . . Condron, B. (2017)
Cooperative behavior emerges among Drosophila larvae.
Current Biology 27: 2821-2826 e2822. PubMed abstract
2. Winding, M., Pedigo, B.D., Barnes, C.L., Patsolic, H.G., Park, Y., Kazimiers, T., . . . Zlatic, M. (2022)
Preprint: The connectome of an insect brain.
Available at: bioRxiv. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2022/11/28/2022.11.28.516756.full.pdf
3. Eschbach, C., Fushiki, A., Winding, M., Afonso, B., Andrade, I.V., Cocanougher, B.T., . . . Zlatic, M. (2021)
Circuits for integrating learned and innate valences in the insect brain.
eLife 10: e62567. PubMed abstract
4. Eschbach, C., Fushiki, A., Winding, M., Schneider-Mizell, C.M., Shao, M., Arruda, R., . . . Zlatic, M. (2020)
Recurrent architecture for adaptive regulation of learning in the insect brain.
Nature Neuroscience 23: 544-555. PubMed abstract