The central nervous system (CNS) has the greatest diversity of cell types and structural complexity of all organs.
Consequently uncovering the genetic program governing cell identity and organisation in the brain represents a major challenge for developmental biology. Drosophila is an ideal model organism to address this question as it makes available powerful gene discovery and gene manipulation techniques.
Several studies have explored the function of genes in patterning larger regions of the brain but much remains to be discovered regarding how specific functional sub-regions of the brain are specified during development.
The focus of the lab is to understand how some of these sub-regions are specified during development. To address this we use a novel promoter trap approach to screen for new genes that are expressed in defined populations of neurons within the brain. We have a collection of such novel insertions and are characterising each line.
During a pilot screen we identified a small number of cells in the developing brain and their projections form a novel circuit which is part of the Mushroom body, the learning and memory centre of the Drosophila brain.
We are interested in the function of these neurons, which we can address using calcium imaging and behaviour assays. We are also studying the function of Odd in patterning the brain, using gain and loss of function experiments.