"Neural mechanisms for dynamic acoustic communication in flies" with Mala Murthy

Past Event

06 December 2017, 1:00pm - 2:00pm

Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School
34 Broad Street (corner of Holywell and Catte Streets), Oxford, OX1 3BD

This seminar is organised by the Mind and Machine Programme and the Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour.

Social interactions require continually adjusting behavior in response to sensory feedback. For example, when having a conversation, the sounds or facial expressions from our partner affect our speech patterns in real time. Our speech signals, in turn, are the sensory cues that modify our partner’s actions. What are the underlying computations and neural mechanisms that govern these interactions? To address these questions, Mala Murthy's lab studies the acoustic communication system of Drosophila. Importantly, Drosophila acoustic behaviors are highly quantifiable and robust. During courtship, males produce time-varying songs via wing vibration, while females arbitrate mating decisions. The lab discovered that, rather than being a stereotyped fixed action sequence, male song structure and intensity are continually sculpted by interactions with the female, over timescales ranging from tens of milliseconds to minutes – and they are mapping the underlying circuits and computations. They have also developed methods to relate song representations in the female brain to changes in her behavior, across multiple timescales. Their focus on natural acoustic signals, either as the output of the male nervous system or as the input to the female nervous system, provides a powerful, quantitative handle for studying the basic building blocks of communication.

Registration not required. For further information, please contact Fiona Woods at fiona.woods@cncb.ox.ac.uk.

About the speaker

Mala Murthy received her BS in Biology from MIT, her PhD in Neuroscience from Stanford University, and completed postdoctoral training, as a Helen Hay Whitney Fellow, in Systems Neuroscience with Gilles Laurent at Caltech. She joined the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University in 2010, where she is now an Associate Professor with tenure and an HHMI Faculty Scholar. She has been recognised with several awards, including a National Science Foundation CAREER award, an NIH Director’s New Innovator award, two BRAIN Initiative awards, and young investigator grants from the McKnight Foundation, the Klingenstein-Simons Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.