Applicant for Position of Director, Eccles Institute of Neuroscience. Professor Barry J Dickson, Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP), Vienna, Austria.
How are innate behavioural repertoires pre-programmed into the nervous system? And how does trial-and-error learning adjust these innate responses according to individual experience? The courtship behaviour of Drosophila melanogaster males offers a tractable genetic model system to address these questions. I will review current efforts to define the anatomy and function of neural circuity that generates male courtship behaviour, with a specific focus on the sexual dimorphisms sculpted into these circuits by the fruitless gene. These dimorphisms result in similar but distinct circuits in males and females, so that differential processing of pheromone signals in higher brain centers leads to dstinct behavioural responses in each sex. Specific elements of these circuits mediate learning in the adult male, so that he learns through experience to direct his courtship activity at the most appropriate target – the receptive virgin female.
Barry Dickson studied at the Universities of Melbourne and Queensland, graduating with a B.Sc. in computer science and a B.Sc.Hons. in genetics. After a brief period at the Salk Institute in San Diego, he then moved for his PhD studies to the University of Zurich, Switzerland, where he worked with Ernst Hafen on receptor tyrosine kinase signalling during Drosophila eye development. His postdoctoral work on axon pathfinding was performed with Corey Goodman at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1996 he set up his own group in Zurich, and in 1998 moved to Vienna, Austria, as a group leader at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP), where he is now the Scientific Director.
Barry’s research group has made key contributions to understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms of axon pathfinding, in particular in the choices axonal growth cones as they navigate the midline of the Drosophila central nervous system. Recently, their research focus has shifted to investigating how dedicated neural circuits mediate complex behaviours, and how genes direct the assembly and function of these circuits. As a model system, his group focuses on the innate reproductive behaviours of Drosophila.