Travel grants to go - Fabio Miazzi

29 April 2018 - By: Fabio Miazzi

Travel grants to go - Fabio Miazzi

Fabio Miazzi

By Fabio Miazzi, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Germany

Fabio travelled to the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies -Hertie Winter School 2017 on “Neural control of behaviour - Series 1: Navigation” (Obergurgl, Austria) to present his research regarding the mechanisms of signal transduction in the olfactory sensory neurons of the vinegar fly, Drosophila melanogaster, and how these signalling cascades help the fly to navigate in turbulent odour plumes.

The purpose of this meeting was primarily to bring together researchers studying animal navigation using two long-standing approaches. The first, an ethological/ecological approach, focuses on the nature of the sensory cues used by animals to find their way while the second, using psychology and neurobiology focuses on the cellular basis of space representation in the brain. The intent was to bridge the gap between the two and enable the exchange of ideas and methods to solve some of the long-standing questions in this research field.

Before attending the course, I already had a general knowledge on the sensory basis of insect and bird navigation, as well as the cellular basis of space representation in the rat hippocampus and the enthorinal cortex. Attendance therefore represented a great opportunity for me to learn about some of the unpublished work of leading research groups and to understand what the current consensus was within the scientific community on some of the long-standing problems on animal navigation. One of the first issues to emerge was in the terminology itself: concepts, particularly some such as “navigation” and “map” have been defined in different ways throughout the literature, sometimes leading to misunderstandings and confusion. So, among the first questions from the students was the request to define some of the vocabulary used in this research field. Nobody had the pretentiousness to give the ultimate definition for these controversial terms, but it was a good way to establish a common basis for understanding and discussion throughout the meeting.

Moreover, I had the chance to get a better understanding of some currently highly debated topics undergoing intense study, such as animal – in particular avian – magnetoreception. It was a great opportunity to learn about the physics behind the current models of light-dependent and independent magnetoreception and the behavioural evidence supporting the use of such senses in bird navigation. But also to understand what information was missing, in particular the lack of identified receptor(s) and the nature of the connected signalling transduction cascades.

Finally, a recurrent topic was the need for a comparative approach to study the neurobiological basis of animal navigation. Data from mouse, rat and bat electrophysiological recordings highlighted commonalities and differences in the way they encode the representation of their position and that of goals in their environment. Meanwhile, avian research on this aspect is lagging behind, although it would be very important to shed some light on the common features they use to encode the representation of space, and to know which of these are the result of adaptation to the animal’s ecology. On this aspect, I was very surprised and excited to see some early research on non-model organisms such as solitary wasps and the goldfish.

Category: Animal Biology