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Given a set of environmental conditions and behavioral limitations, what is the optimal neural strategy and performance for a certain visual task? What adaptations are crucial for it? Are such adaptations widely spread across distantly related species that display similar behaviors? Or are they just present in one highly specialized group?
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Neural code driving visually driven predation
To answer these questions, the laboratory works on visually guided predators. Predation is innate, robust, reproducible and crucial for survival, which makes it an ideal substrate for neurological studies. In particular, we focus on how predatory insects code motion information about their prey (target). The large diversity of this group allows us to carry out targeted comparative studies. For example, by studying the neurons involved in the dragonfly’s predatory attack, we demonstrated that although dragonflies and monkeys share information strategies for coding direction, the ancient dragonfly system outperforms monkey neurons in such a task (Gonzalez-Bellido et al., 2013, PNAS; 2012 Cozzarelli prize awarded by the PNAS editorial board).
Miniaturization of a nervous system
I have a particular interest in the visual performance of small predatory flies, because miniaturization demands increased performance per space unit. For example, we have published how the neural and morphological adaptations of the miniature killer fly eye informs us about the true physical limits of tiny light detectors (Gonzalez-Bellido et al., 2011, PNAS; 2011 Capranica prize by the Society for Neuroethology). At present we are investigating how killer flies keep track of their target during their short and fast predatory flights and how the visual information about small moving targets is coded and transferred from the photoreceptors to the motorneurons controlling flight.
Approach and techniques
Our research on the neural basis of predation follows a neuroethological approach; we study how the behavior is driven by the underlying physiology and morphology of the neural system. Thus, we employ high speed videography (in the field and in the laboratory), electrophysiology (intracellular and extracellular) and microscopy (light and electron). In addition, we collaborate with the laboratory of Hanchuan Peng (Allen Institute for Brain Science) in the development of new techniques for tracing neurons.
An additional research topic, carried out as part of the Program in Sensory Ecology and Behavior at the MBL (Woods Hole), is the neural control of iridescence, and its role in the ecology, of squid species.
Trevor Wardill (MBL, Woods Hole)
Rob Olberg (Union College)
Hanchuan Peng (Allen Institute for Brain Science)
Apostolos Georgopoulos (Brain Center, University of Minnesota).
2013 Cozzarelli Prize
(Biological Sciences section) awarded by PNAS editorial board for the
most important publication in Biological Sciences in PNAS in 2012.
2011 Capranica Prize Awarded by the International Society for Neuroethology in recognition of outstanding achievement or future promise in the field of neuroethology.
2009 Young Scientist Award (1st Prize) by the Society of Experimental Biology. Annual meeting for the Society of Experimental Biology, Glasgow.
2014 Gonzalez-Bellido PT*, Wardill TJ*, Ulmer KM, Buresch KC, Hanlon RT. Expression of squid iridescence depends on environmental luminance and peripheral ganglion control. J Exp Biol. In press
2013 Nordstrom, Karin and Gonzalez-Bellido, Paloma T. 2013. Invertebrate Vision: Peripheral Adaptation to Repeated Object Motion. Current Biology. Volume 23, Issue 15, 5 August 2013, Pages R655–R656
2013 Yang J, Gonzalez-Bellido PT, Peng H. A distance-field based automatic neuron tracing method. BMC Bioinformatics. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1471-2105-14-93
2013 Gonzalez-Bellido PT, Peng H, Yang J, Georgopoulos AP, Olberg RM. Eight pairs of descending visual neurons in the dragonfly give wing motor centers accurate population vector of prey direction. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 110: 696-701. http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1210489109
2012 Wardill TJ*, Gonzalez-Bellido PT*, Crook RJ, Hanlon RT. Neural control of tuneable skin iridescence in squid. Proc R Soc B 279: 4243-4252. *Equal Contribution. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2012.1374
2012 Gonzalez-Bellido PT, Wardill TJ (Cover). Labeling and confocal imaging of neurons in thick invertebrate tissue samples. Cold Spring Harbor Protocols: http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/pdb.prot069625
2011 Gonzalez-Bellido PT, Wardill TJ, Juusola M. Compound eyes and retinal information processing in miniature dipteran species match their specific ecological demands. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108: 4224-4229. http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1014438108
2009 Gonzalez-Bellido PT, Wardill TJ, Kostyleva R, Meinertzhagen IA, Juusola M. Overexpressing temperature-sensitive dynamin decelerates phototransduction and bundles microtubules in Drosophila. J. Neuroscience 29: 14199-14210. http://dx.doi.org/10.1523/Jneurosci.2873-09.2009.
Video: A descending neuron in the dragonfly L.luctuosa, dye filled with Lucifer yellow through an intracellular electrode, branches extensively in the meso- and metathoracic ganglia (Confocal microscopy).