For most people, fruit flies are just annoying visitors in the kitchen. We don’t usually think about fruit flies learning or fighting over mates, but Michaela Superson ’13, a neuroscience major, and Jeffrey Paer ’15, a biology major, have been looking at these complex behaviors in fruit flies to study brain chemistry and memory.
Superson, who spent the past two semesters working on a senior honors thesis project, was interested in neurotransmitters, chemicals that relay messages between different cells in the brain. In particular, she worked with dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward.
“My senior thesis provided an excellent introduction to medical research I may conduct in the future,” said Superson, who plans to go to medical school. “It solidified my love of neuroscience and my desire to pursue medicine.”
Her experimental fruit flies were mutants that produce either too little or too much dopamine. She observed the effects that changes in dopamine can have on courtship behavior, compared to the courtship behavior of “normal” flies. Then, she “rescued” the mutant flies, by adding dopamine or a dopamine inhibitor to restore their dopamine levels to normal.
Paer, who is also interested in a medical career, started out as an assistant for Superson’s thesis project and was soon inspired to start his own research testing memory in fruit flies. [Read more...]