We are investigating how neuronal circuits in the brain drive social interactions between animals.
Social interactions occur across the animal kingdom and are the basis of some important innovations, including the internet and social networking platforms. But these technologies pose risks: people’s behaviours and opinions can be manipulated by malicious political entities or using artificial intelligence for commercial gain. Understanding how social networks mechanistically function on the individual level is becoming increasingly urgent. However, how neuronal circuits in the brain drive social behaviour is not clear.
Understanding the dense circuitry of the human brain is not yet possible, so we study social behaviours in a simple organism, the larva of the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster), which displays both cooperative and competitive behaviours. We have previously generated a complete map of this animal’s brain, including all neurons and synaptic connections between them. Using this map and experimental tools to manipulate or record activity of individual neurons, we hope to understand the computations underlying social behaviours.
We are also interested in how social isolation and genes related to neuropsychiatric disorders, such as autism, disrupt brain wiring and behaviour. We aim to restore normal social behaviours in animals with abnormal brain wiring using targeted optogenetic activation of affected neuronal circuits.