Jaksic Lab – Experimental Evolutionary Neurobiology

“Electron microscopy image of a Drosophila head (by Martin Helmstaedter) overlaid with an image of Drosophila brain and dopaminergic neurons (by Ana Marija Jaksic), and a schematic of the mushroom body manipulated by two robotic arms.”

Why did cognition evolve? So far, this important question has been addressed through the inference from past evolutionary events, processes, and outcomes. Our mission is to shift the focus on experimental exploration of the evolutionary basis of the cognitive brain. Using experimental evolution, we will force and track the genetic and phenotypic evolution of cognitive traits in real-time. We aim to map the genetic variation that contributes to cognition and cognition-related traits by screening and selecting the vast genetic and phenotypic diversity of Drosophila melanogaster.

Experimental evolution of the cognitive brain

Already in 1871 Charles Darwin predicted that “… the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.” One and a half century later we finally have the technology to explicitly test this hypothesis. We use collaborative robotics assisted experimental evolution to evolve in real-time a higher cognitive ability in vinegar flies. This long-term experiment serves to provide insight in tempo and mode of evolution of cognitive ability in cognitively simple organisms.

Natural genetic variation of neuronal traits and cognitive ability

How diverse do brains get in natural populations and what does this mean for their function? Our lab aims to catalogue and explore natural genetic diversity of Drosophila brain morphology and function using a highly diverse fly genetic panel. By mapping the phenotypic diversity to variation in DNA sequence we look to uncover genetic mechanisms underlying brain function and morphology.

Collaborative robotics for high-throughput Drosophila phenotyping

Are you a driven bachelor’s or master’s student with good computational background interested in lab immersion or thesis project? We are developing automated evolution experiments using bleeding-edge robotics tech to evolve cognition in flies! Sounds like sci-fi? Come check it out, send us an email ([email protected]), and then see for yourself if you want to join our team!

Click on the thinking brain to link to Jaksic Lab’s external website