Wired for Sex: The Genetics and Neurobiology of Drosophila Mating Behaviours

Lecture Synopsis

Reproduction in most animal species involves complex rituals for courtship, copulation, and post-mating behaviours. These behaviours are robust, innate, and sexually dimorphic, making them attractive model systems for understanding how neural circuits operate more generally, and to explore the causal links between genes, circuits, and behaviour. In Drosophila, sex-specific reproductive behaviours are shaped by the genes fruitless (fru) and doublesex (dsx). These genes are expressed in ~2000 individual neurons, comprising >200 distinct cell types, many of which have been ascribed specific functions in male or female reproductive behaviours. I will present evidence that these neurons are organized into anatomically distinct but functionally analogous circuits in the two sexes. I will show how key nodes in these circuits are sexually dimorphic, resulting in sex-specific behavioural outputs, and discuss our efforts to trace the developmental origin of these sex differences

About the Speaker

Barry Dickson studied at the Universities of Melbourne and Queensland in Australia, 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 moved for his PhD studies to the University of Zurich, Switzerland, where he worked with Ernst Hafen on receptor tyrosine kinase signalling duringDrosophila eye development. His postdoctoral work on axon pathfinding was performed with Corey Goodman at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1998, Barry moved to Vienna, Austria, becoming a group leader and then senior scientist at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP). From 2006-2012, he was Scientific Director of the IMP. Since 2013, he has been a lab head at the Janelia Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, VA, and since 2015 also a visitor professor at the Queensland Brain Institute in Brisbane, Australia.

Barry’s research group made key contributions to understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms of axon pathfinding, in particular in the choices axonal growth cones make as they navigate the midline of the Drosophila central nervous system. In the early 2000s, the group shifted its focus to the neural mechanisms underlying innate behaviours in Drosophila, most notably male courtship behaviour and female receptivity. Barry's group has also generated powerful genetic tools and resources that are widely used in the Drosophila research community, including the first genome-wide transgenic RNAi libraries for cell-specific analysis of gene function, and the VT collection of several thousand GAL4 and split-GAL4 lines and images that allow researchers to target RNAi knockdown or other genetic manipulations to specific cell types in the Drosophila brain.