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How does the brain make decisions when faced with conflicting options?


School of Biosciences

About the Project

Animals engage in daily activities that are essential for survival and reproduction, such as feeding, mating or fighting for resources. How does an animal prioritise one behaviour over others? We know that cues conveying external information (e.g., threats from other animals, access to food) and internal state (e.g., fear, hunger, tiredness) guide behavioural choices. However, exactly how action-selection occurs in the brain remains unknown. This research proposal aims to understand how the brain makes decisions when faced with conflicting options using the fruit fly model, Drosophila melanogaster. Fruit flies exhibit complex behaviours that are controlled by a relatively small brain. Furthermore, sophisticated genetic tools are available which facilitate the control of individual neurons with temporal resolution, enabling us to probe the circuitry underlying behaviour.

Using Drosophila as a model system provides a unique opportunity to address fundamental aspects of action selection: how does the brain integrate information from the outside world and internal state to select the most appropriate action for each situation? What neurons and mechanisms underlie these behavioural decisions?

To address these questions, the PhD student will use a range of cutting-edge techniques: genetics, confocal microscopy, optogenetics, thermogenetics, molecular biology, behavioural assays live imaging to record neural activity in behaving flies, we will collaborate with research groups in the UK.

Significance of the project:

How the brain selects appropriate actions is a fascinating question that remains unknown. Choosing appropriate actions is not only crucial for our life but can, collectively, influence the course of our society. Furthermore, action-selection processes are impaired in addiction and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Understanding how different neurons contribute to optimal action-selection in a genetically tractable experimental system will help us advance our knowledge of how the brain works, and what goes wrong in disease.

For information about research in our laboratory, please visit our lab webpage: https://www.rezavallab.org University webpage: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/biosciences/rezaval-carolina.aspx Watch a 3-minute video about Dr Rezaval’s past work: https://vimeo.com/177551510

How to apply: We accept applications from fully self-funded students all year. The deadline to apply for a funded-PhD position is 10 January 2021. Apply here https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/mibtp/pgstudy/phd_opportunities/application/submission
Select our PhD project ’How does the brain make decisions when faced with conflicting options?’ from https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/mibtp/pgstudy/phd_opportunities/neuroscience_behaviour

Please view the specific guidance on the Birmingham website: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/mibtp/index.aspx
Informal enquiries about the post should be directed to Dr Carolina Rezaval

Funding Notes

The Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership 2020 (MIBTP2020) is a BBSRC-funded doctoral training partnership between the Universities of Warwick, Birmingham, Leicester, Aston and Harper Adams. It delivers innovative, world-class research training across the Life Sciences to boost the growing Bioeconomy across the UK.

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