Faculty Seminar:Uncovering principles for biological motor control by reverse engineering the mind of a fly
A shared goal of neuroscience and robotics is to understand how systems can be designed to move autonomously and efficiently through complex environments. However, state-of-the-art robotic controllers are relatively primitive compared with the nervous systems of animals. To gain a deeper understanding of biological motor control and to narrow this gap, we are investigating how the fly, Drosophila melanogaster, generates complex limb-dependent behaviors. Our studies benefit from the fly’s small nervous system and the ability to precisely manipulate identified neurons using a variety of genetic tools. I will summarize how my group has developed additional experimental and computational tools, allowing us to gain fundamental insights into biological motor control. First, I will describe our new approaches to precisely quantify behaviors, record motor circuits in behaving animals, and model neural controllers in a physics based simulation of the fly. Then, I will show how we have used these tools to explore the brain’s descending control of behavior and how ascending motor circuits communicate ongoing actions to the brain. Ultimately, we aim to uncover multi-scale mechanisms for biological motor control that can inform an understanding of ourselves and also inspire the design of more autonomous artificial systems.
Pavan Ramdya is an Assistant Professor at EPFL jointly in the Brain Mind Institute and in the Institute of Bioengineering. He received his PhD in neurobiology from Harvard University and then performed postdoctoral work in robotics and neurogenetics. His laboratory uses computational, engineering, genetics, and microscopy approaches to understand how neural population dynamics, biomechanics, and gene expression sculpt behaviors in the fly, Drosophila melanogaster. He has been awarded an HFSP Career Development Award, a Swiss National Science Foundation Eccellenza Grant, a UNIL Young Investigator Award in Basic Science, and is a member of the FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence.
This seminar is part of the evaluation of Prof. Ramdya for the promotion to Associate Professor.
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