We are interested in understanding the mechanisms through which genetic and environmental factors influence behaviour. To this end we study social behaviours in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, whose organization shows a strong interplay between genetics and both biotic and abiotic environmental factors. Our main line of research evolves around the mechanisms that allow individuals to integrate social and environmental cues to make reproductive decisions. These decisions include partner choice, level of sexual promiscuity, and offspring production in changing environments. We seek to answer these questions at the molecular and cellular level, but are also interested in the implications that genetic variation and adaptation to environmental conditions have on the evolution of social behaviours and mating systems.
Our choice of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as our experimental model is based on the availability of advanced genetic manipulations allowing the study of the function of genes and cells in live behaving individuals. We take a neurogenetics approach characterized by the use of forward, reverse and quantitative genetics to isolate genes that influence social behaviours. We then use these genes as a gateway to the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying social behaviours. For this we use a range of techniques including: molecular genetics such as gene cloning and transgenesis to manipulate gene expression and cellular physiology, analytical chemistry (e.g.Gas chromatography) to study small chemicals acting as social (e.g. pheromones) and environmental (e.g. food) cues, confocal microscopy for studies of gene expression on both fixed and live tissues, and behavioral paradigms to study social behaviours in groups.