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Otopalik Lab

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Research Overview
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We study how the brain forms internal representations of self and others in space and uses such internal models to guide social action selection, decision-making, and behavioral strategies.

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In nature, fruit flies often commune on rotting fruit. Here, they must contend with noisy, multi-sensory environments in solving the problems of finding food, avoiding predators, and seeking mates. In our lab, we generally use mate-seeking behavior in Drosophila as a venue to investigate how fundamental circuit components—the biophysical and morphological properties of individual neurons, their synaptic connections, and neuromodulator and receptor complements—give rise to adaptive and often idiosyncratic behavioral strategies.

We leverage the unprecedented anatomical and molecular-genetic tools available in Drosophila to map underlying circuits and perform neurophysiological perturbations and measurements as animals engage in social interactions and environments. Most projects benefit from some combination of experimental, computational, and theoretical approaches, as well as new instrumentation development, which may include: electrophysiology, calcium imaging, optogenetics, quantitative microscopy and anatomy, construction of custom rigs for behavioral and neurophysiological experiments, development of virtual reality software and paradigms, tracking and quantitative behavioral analysis of head-fixed and freely moving animals, and/or theoretical modeling of behavior and underlying neuronal computations and circuit function.

We work closely with many other groups at Janelia, including the labs of Kristin Branson, Michael Reiser, Gerry Rubin, and Vivek Jayaraman, as well as support teams such as Scientific Computing, Janelia Experimental Technologies, and the Fly Facility.