Aaron Talsma, an undergraduate in the Shafer Lab and Cellular and Molecular Biology (CMB) major, has been awarded the prestigious Fulbright Fellowship for his work "Getting Lucky: Determining How the Male Courtship Song Contributes to Arousal in Drosophila." He is currently working in Barry Dickson's lab at The Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna under the auspices of the award. Aaron is one of fifteen U.S. Fulbright students at Austrian Universities.
When asked about his experience in CMB, Aaron said "Orie was the best teacher I had in my entire college career. Every week we would meet and talk on a one-to-one basis about my results and what they might mean. He was also very friendly and easy to talk to. He was always willing to answer a quick question from anyone. His attitude toward running the lab also fostered a great lab atmosphere. Everyone in lab was friendly and always enjoyed discussing any topic that came up from science to politics."
The Dickson Lab uses molecular genetic techniques to study the function of neural circuits in Drosophila. Their goal is to understand how information processing in defined neural circuits generates complex animal behaviors. As a model system, the lab focuses on the fly's mating behaviors. These behaviors are robust, adaptive, and particularly amenable to genetic analysis.
Aaron chose Dr. Dickson's lab as he was very impressed with the system being studied. The lab is trying to elucidate the circuitry involved in the mating decisions of Drosophila females. "The system was so impressive to me because it is relatively complex, receiving multiple sensory inputs from males, the environment, and the female's own internal state, and yet seems to be easily accessible genetically, as most of the neurons involved are marked by a single enhancer," said Aaron. "Understanding how this system works would show us for the first time what a circuit for making a decision looks like. The benefits of that could be enormous especially in improving behavioral therapies for the mentally ill."
Aaron also published his undergraduate thesis work in PNAS as sole first author: "Remote control of renal physiology by the intestinal neuropeptide pigment-dispersing factor in Drosophila." Read the publication: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/07/06/1200247109.short
Fulbright is the most widely recognized and prestigious international exchange program in the world, supported for more than half a century by the American people through an annual appropriation from the U.S. Congress and by the people of partner nations. The Fulbright Fellowships offer up to one academic year of support for study and/or research in academic fields and the creative and performing arts. Applicants propose their own research and/or graduate study project and find their own host affiliation.