Biology 2012-12-06

I have been collaborating with the Dickinson lab, in particular with Andrew Straw (who now has his own lab at the Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna, Austria) on the quantitative characterization of visually-driven behavior in Drosophila Melanogaster.

The video shows the kind of simulated data I am working with. Using a special apparatus with 11 cameras, the animal is tracked with a precision of a few millimiters. An ad-hoc simulator allows to reconstruct the visual stimulus experienced by the animal at a reasonable level of accuracy.

We then analyze the data asking whether we can infer the neural processing happening in the animal brain.

Video: Simulated visual input from tracking data of free-flying Drosophila Melanogaster (watch on Vimeo). On the right, you can see the simulated visual stimulus. On the left, the position of the fly in the arena (1m radius). Note that the video is slowed down about 10x with respect to the real data: fruit flies are very fast! (real time is in the left corner) Watch the video full-screen to appreciate the details.

Recent papers

Andrea Censi*, Andrew D. Straw*, Rosalyn W. Sayaman, Richard M. Murray, and Michael H. Dickinson. Discriminating external and internal causes for saccade initiation in freely flying Drosophila. PLOS Computational Biology, February 2013. pdfdoi supp. material slidesbibtex

What goes on in a fruit fly's head while it flies? In this paper we try to identify the dependence of the decision processes on the external stimulus experienced by the fly. Remarkably, we are able to say a great deal about internal sensory processing by just observing the external behavior.