Faculty supervisor: Nigel Atkinson
Name of project: Neural Circuits That Mediate Alcohol-Induced Aggression in Drosophila
Please give a brief, simplified overview of your research project.
Surprisingly enough, flies make an excellent organism for modeling human alcohol behaviors; understanding how alcohol impacts fly behavior can tell you a lot about similar behavior in humans. Our lab discovered that male fruit flies get more violent when they drink; we want to figure out what causes this behavior in fly brains so that we can start to understand similar behavior in humans. By measuring alcohol-induced aggression in a variety of mutant fruit flies we can determine what genes and neurons are important for regulating alcohol-induced aggression.
Describe the tasks you engage in as part of your work.
There are a lot of tasks to be done for this project. Tasks range from molecular biology assays like qPCR, to data analytics, to fly-wrangling. The project has a broad variety of required steps that keep things interesting. A very big part of the project is video analysis. To measure aggression, you have to actually sit down and count the number of times the flies smack each other around.
Describe what you thought college might be like before you came to UT. Did you consider research when thinking about college?
I wasn’t at all thinking about research before I came to UT; I showed up as an undeclared freshman in the School of Undergraduate Studies. By the end of my first year, I had applied to transfer over to mechanical engineering. When that didn’t pan out I felt lost and started shopping around for majors. By the end of my sophomore year, I was a biology major working in a fly lab. I never realized the passion I had for research until I got involved with a student organization that clued me in to all of the research opportunities here on campus.
How did you get involved with your research project?
My lab supervisor is a great mentor and is always pushing me to take advantage of research-related scholarships and funding. When I heard about the Undergraduate Research Fellowship offered by the Office of Undergraduate Research, I started formulating ideas for a potential research project based on some previous work I had read about in the literature. Eventually I stumbled upon a gap in knowledge that was in line with the main aims of our lab.
Do you see your project connecting with your plans for your future?
Yes I do! I am quite literally working towards my dream job. The project is a great chance to get some experience with the entire process of proposing, conducting, and presenting research. As someone who is dying to get into a graduate program for biological research science, it’s been an invaluable learning experience.
What is the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve gotten to do for this project?
The project involves feeding alcohol to fruit flies and then watching them fight each other for dominance over a big pile of food and a decapitated female. If that doesn’t sound interesting to you, you’re lying to yourself.
What advice would you give to a student who was thinking about research?
Ask around! UT is a tier-one university with a ton of active research projects of every stripe. There’s bound to be at least a dozen professors working on projects that will pique your interest. EUREKA is a great online resource for finding professors and their research and can help you get in touch with them. If one lab isn’t looking for any more undergrads, there are bound to be others that will. Just look around, introduce yourself, and don’t get discouraged if you get a few “no’s”. I must have written to a dozen professors before I found one that was willing to take me on. Persistence pays off and a little bit of passion can go a long way.