With a training in molecular neurobiology I entered the Vision Group to benefit from their wisdom in neuroethology. I am fascinated by how evolutionary shaped neural circuits enable animals to perform (complex) behavior.
On two field trips to Israel (Negev desert) and Costa Rica (La Selva) I became fascinated by the diversity of bats and their vocal behavior. I examined the role of the transcription factor FoxP2 in bat brains because this highly conserved protein is relevant for language acquisition in humans, song learning in songbirds and motor learning in rodents. In parallel, I started to study the expression pattern and sequence of the insect orthologue – FoxP – in honey bees. The FoxP gene locus is, despite being very ancient very conserved which suggests a conserved function, e.g. for motor learning in bilaterian species, ranging from flatworms to mammals.
During my PhD I examined the role of the FoxP gene and protein by analyzing its nervous expression pattern in three different bee species and the motor behavior of flies (Drosophila) with disturbed FoxP neurons. My work revealed that FoxP serves as a marker for a specific cell type (middle Kenyon cells/αβcore cells) which, in Drosophila, is relevant for decision making and assigning valence.
While using a bottom-up approach during my doctorate, i.e. understanding the eventual behavioral function of a specific gene, I now want to use a top-down approach during my Postdoc, i.e. examine the neuronal correlates of a fascinating behavior by using behavioral, molecular and physiological methods. I want to study how bumble bee brains process path integration, i.e. how they choose the shortest way home after having explored their environment in a circuitous path. I want to exploit footprints of neuronal activity like the expression of immediate early genes and metabolic markers to identify the neurons that accumulate the path integration memory.