Identifying the circuit mechanisms of jumping in Scaptodrosophila larvae

How do new behaviors arise over evolution? Lucia Prieto-Godino and Samuel Rodriques are leading a project to understand the evolutionary changes in fruit fly brains that enabled a new instinctual behavior in one species of fruit fly known as Scaptodrosophila latifasciaeformis — unlike other fruit fly young, Scaptodrosophila larvae get around by jumping in addition to crawling. The scientists plan to map the neurons and their connections involved in motion in the larvae using a newly developed method known as optical connectomics to map connections between neurons at a much larger scale than is possible with traditional techniques. The researchers will compare the Scaptodrosophila motor neurons and circuits to those of the commonly studied fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, to better understand whether the jumping behavior evolved due to changes in the types of neurons, their connections, or both.  

Affiliated Investigators

Lucia Prieto-Godino, Ph.D.

Francis Crick Institute

Dr. Prieto-Godino is a Group Leader at Francis Crick Institute, leading the Neural circuits and evolution lab, which focuses in understanding the genetic, developmental and circuit mechanisms underlying brain evolution. Her lab employs a multidisciplinary approach, combining comparative connectomics, functional imaging, genetic manipulation of non-model organisms, single cell transcriptomics, optogenetics, behaviour, bio-informatics, sensory ecology and evolutionary tools, including field work. Through her research, she has uncovered fundamental principles in neural circuit function and evolution, including the discovery of neuronally regulated stop codon readthrough, the role of single nucleotide changes in the evolution of olfactory receptors, and rules of circuit rewiring within and across species. 

In addition, Dr. Prieto-Godino has developed technical tools and educational programmes to increase the global capacity for scientific research, including open hardware tools for imaging and behavioural analysis. She is also the founding director of a non-profit organisation devoted to promote scientific research and education in the African continent (TReNDinAfrica.org). 

Dr. Prieto-Godino scientific and outreach contributions have been widely recognised through multiple awards, including the FENS Young Investigator Prize, the L’Oreal UNESCO FWIS Fellowship, the NEB passion in science award and the Woman of the Future award, among others. She is also an elected scholar of the FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence.

Dr. Prieto-Godino obtained her B.A. from Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (Spain), where she trained in the Polavieja lab. After an exchange at the University of Lund (Sweden), working in the Nilson lab on box jelly fish visual ecology, she joined Bate’s group at the University of Cambridge (UK) for her Ph.D., studying the development of neural circuits in Drosophila embryos. She next obtained a FEBS fellowship and moved to the Benton lab, at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) for her postdoctoral work on the evolution of olfactory circuits across Drosophilids. She went back to the UK to start her group at The Francis Crick Institute in 2018. 

Sam Rodriques, Ph.D.

Francis Crick Institute

Sam Rodriques is an entrepreneur, technologist, and inventor. He has invented a new nanofabrication method, a new approach to sensing neural activity with probes in the bloodstream, and new ways to extract spatial and temporal information from RNA sequencing. He founded the Applied Biotechnology Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute in January 2021 with the goal of combining bioengineering and entrepreneurship to develop and deploy new biotechnologies that address major unmet needs for biology and medicine. His lab is developing a broad range of technologies, including new AAV viral vectors, new diagnostic technologies for cancer and Alzheimer's disease, and new ways to map connections between neurons in the brain. He also invents new mechanisms for funding research, such as focused research organizations.

Prior to starting his lab, he was an entrepreneur in residence at Petri, a biotech accelerator in Boston, Massachusetts, and a total of four companies have been spun out based on technologies he has invented. In the spring of 2019, he graduated with a Ph.D. in Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, having worked between the MIT Media Lab, the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. He has received numerous national awards and fellowships to support his studies and recognize his research, including the 2019 Stat Wunderkind award, the Hertz Foundation Thesis Prize, the Myhrvold and Havranek Family Charitable Fund Hertz Graduate Fellowship, an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and a Churchill Scholarship.