Kristin Scott, Professor

Closed (1) Neural circuits for competing behavioral drives

Applications for fall 2021 are now closed for this project.

How do neural circuits toggle between competing behavioral drives? In oviparous insects like Drosophila melanogaster, suitable egg-laying sites are poor sites for feeding and are usually positionally aversive. However, these sames sites become attractive to gravid females for egg deposition. Though taste and smell have been shown to be essential for this behavioral switch, the neural circuits that drive it are unknown. We recently discovered a female-specific neuron that represents the attractive sensory experience of egg-laying and directly excites the command neuron that drives oviposition. The goal of this project is to develop an egg-laying choice assay in order to determine whether this female-specific neuron is required for proper selection of egg-laying sites.

The undergraduate researcher will use the established t-maze behavioral assay as a starting point for developing an egg-laying choice assay. After becoming an expert at performing the standard aversive learning protocol, they will iterate through potential assay conditions to select those that produce the most robust behavior in wild-type animals. The undergraduate researcher will also assist with stock building and routine animal husbandry as needed.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Gabriella Sterne, Post-Doc

Qualifications: Previous research experience in Drosophila sensory neurobiology is required. The ideal candidate should also have experience with designing and setting fly crosses, standard animal husbandry, behavioral assays, and optogenetics.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

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Closed (3) Tracing Drosophila Hunger and Thirst Neurons in a Whole Brain Electron Microscopy Dataset

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2021 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2021.

All animals need to eat food and drink water in order to survive. However, how competing needs such as hunger and thirst are balanced to maintain nutrient homeostasis is still not well understood. In the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, 4 neurons called Interoceptive Subesophageal zone Neurons (ISNs) detect both hunger and thirst signals to oppositely regulate sucrose and water ingestion. Part of the Scott lab’s goal is to understand how ISNs alter feeding circuits by identifying and characterizing neurons downstream to the ISNs.

The undergraduate researcher’s project will focus on tracing candidate ISN postsynaptic neurons using a cutting-edge electron microscopy (EM) dataset as part of a large-scale collaborative effort to trace the entire Drosophila brain. The undergraduate researcher will be trained in navigating the already generated EM dataset, tracing neurons, and data analysis. The project will be completely online. After being trained, the undergraduate researcher will conduct their day-to-day work with a great deal of autonomy however, the student will work closely with the graduate student mentor through frequent zoom meetings.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Amanda González-Segarra, Graduate Student

Qualifications: Student should have already taken General Biology and Organic Chemistry. Basic understanding of neuroscience is advantageous. No previous lab experience is needed. Applicants need to be able to maintain a high level of focus and attention to minute details for extended periods of time. This project will involve a considerable amount of repetitive work, so applicants should be independent and highly motivated. Preference will be given to sophomores and juniors.

Weekly Hours: 9-11 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: Online

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Closed (4) Tracing Drosophila taste processing neurons

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2021 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2021.

How do animals decide to eat sweet foods and avoid bitter ones?  The Scott Lab studies how tastes are processed using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.  To understand how Drosophila makes feeding decisions, we are assembling the taste processing circuit using an electron microscopy data set of the fly brain. 

Undergraduate researchers will reconstruct fly neurons and their connections between each other.  Although this project initially will be entirely remote, we hope that the project will eventually incorporate wet lab experiments.  For example, undergraduate researchers would directly activate the neurons they have reconstructed, and determine how this alters feeding behavior. , Post-Doc

Qualifications: No particular prior coursework is required, but a basic understanding of neuroscience will be useful. Previous lab experience is not required.  The groundwork for this project will involve a considerable amount of repetitive "tracing" so independence and commitment is essential. Priority will be given to sophomores and juniors.

Weekly Hours: 9-11 hrs

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