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Evolution of neuronal cell types, development and circuitry in the insect visual system: breaking down behavioural evolution into its constituent elements

Project description

Insights into how behaviours evolve

How do the mechanisms responsible for neuronal development evolve, and what effect do they have on neuronal diversity? This is one of the fundamental questions the EU-funded BehaEvoDevo project will seek to answer. It will investigate behavioural evolution and development using the insect visual system as a model – the Drosophila visual system. BehaEvoDevo's work will deliver the first complete assessment of the mechanisms that drive the evolution of new behaviours in insects. It will also deliver a blueprint which the community can use to compare their data in different clades of the phylogenetic tree and to various sensory modalities.


One of the holy grails of neuroscience is to understand how complex behaviours arise. However, surprisingly little is known about how behaviours evolve. My proposal will delve into Behavioural Evolution and Development (BehaEvoDevo) in an unbiased and comprehensive way using the insect visual system as a model. The visual system of Drosophila has been described extensively in terms of cell type composition, development, circuitry, and behaviour. My expertise in this system will be the springboard to address four fundamental questions: 1) How different is the cell type composition in the brains of different animals? 2) How do the mechanisms that are responsible for neuronal development evolve and how do they affect neuronal diversity? 3) What are the differences in the circuitry that underlies specific behaviours in different animals? 4) How do differences in neuronal composition, neuronal features, or circuitry drive different behaviours? I will combine cutting edge techniques, such as single-cell sequencing, with advanced genetic tools in Drosophila, and adapt innovative tools for genetic manipulation and circuit function in different non-model insects. I will compare how cell type composition, neuronal specification and differentiation, as well as circuitry, affect specific behaviours. I will examine phylogenetically diverse insects to generate a deep understanding of the mechanisms that are most important for the evolution of different behaviours. Moreover, I will identify fundamental principles about how developmental processes, such as neuronal specification and differentiation, evolve to control different behaviours. The cumulative results of this proposal will offer the first comprehensive assessment of the mechanisms that drive evolution of new behaviours across insects; it will also generate a blueprint for the community to compare their data in different clades of the phylogenetic tree as well as to different sensory modalities.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 632 647,00
75794 Paris

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Ile-de-France Ile-de-France Paris
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 1 632 647,00

Beneficiaries (1)