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EASTBIO How does the brain allow us to move in many different ways?

School of Psychology

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Dr Maarten Zwart No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Our brains allow us to move not just in one way, but in all of the many different ways that make up our behaviour. How is this achieved? Brain neurons send the commands to start, stop and change movements, while neurons in the spinal cord carry them out. We still do not understand how these spinal cord neurons are directed to produce the different patterns of muscle contractions that generate each type of movement. An important reason for this is that we have lacked the tools to study the many thousands of cell types in the vertebrate brain. Our lab aims to overcome this problem by combining the unrivalled set of genetic tools of Drosophila with the imaging and manipulation of neural activity of their relatively simple brains and motor systems. We are uncovering the identity of cell types that allow their brains to generate different movements, and investigate the synaptic mechanisms with which they do so. Our work addresses unsolved questions that lie at the heart of our understanding of the nervous system, and its normal and abnormal function.

In this project, you will be able to use state-of-the-art techniques including advanced microscopy, deep learning-assisted image analysis, electron microscopy-based circuit reconstruction and quantitative analysis. You will image the patterns of activity across the brain using calcium and voltage sensors as the animal engages in different behaviours; explore the neural circuitry involved in these different behaviours by reconstructions from electron microscopy data, including those neurons descending from the brain; image the activity of cell types of interest using calcium sensors; and assess the behavioural importance of these cells by manipulating their activity using optogenetics in combination with AI-assisted behavioural tracking. Your project will provide fundamental insights into the workings of the Drosophila motor system, with implications for our understanding of the neuronal basis of motor control in nervous systems across the animal kingdom.

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover stipend and UK level tuition. For international candidates, the University of St Andrews will cover the Home-International fee difference. Please refer to UKRI website and Annex B of the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions for full eligibility criteria.

As part of your online application please upload the EASTBIO Application Form, academic transcripts, and ensure two references (using the EASTBIO reference form) are provided by the deadline.
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