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Genetics of taste perception, processing and memory in Drosophila melanogaster


The perception and analysis of the environment is one of the most important and fascinating tasks every living organism has to perform. In most terrestrial animals substances in the atmosphere are detected by olfactory sensory organs, while molecules in so lution are sensed by gustatory organs.

These sensory inputs are essential in detecting vital resources such as food and mating partners and avoiding dangers such as poisons and predators. While our understanding of smell in Drosophila has been rapidly grow ing almost nothing is known about the genetic basis of taste perception and processing. A further essential skill animals have developed is the ability to remember the effect of an edible substance on the organism.

Drosophila has also emerged as a very use ful model organism for studying learning and memory. However our knowledge originates mainly from one olfactory conditioning paradigm and only very few genes involved in learning and memory have been identified up to date. I propose to perform a screen for novel genes implicated in taste perception, processing and memory.

This will be achieved by means of a behavioral functional genomics screen using a novel resource generated in the host lab which allows time- and tissue-specific gene silencing of any gene in the Drosophila genome based on the inducible RNAi technique. By analyzing the behavioral response of single flies to tastants using the proboscis extension response I will be able to isolate genes implicated in taste perception and processing.

By inclu ding a learning and memory paradigm based on taste I will at the same time screen for genes involved in associative learning and memory. Ultimately, this will lay the basis for the understanding of the molecular processes required for gustatory signal tran sduction, processing, and plasticity as well as the neuronal networks underlying these complex processes.

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