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Research interests

PhD project:  A fly as best friend is an option too - The evolutionary conserved genetic pathways of sociability

Sociability – the tendency to engage in group activities – is crucial from bacteria to humans, making it one of the most conserved aspects of life. In addition to this fundamental importance, research in the mechanisms of sociability is urgently required following the recent realisation that individual variation in human sociability correlates with morbidity and psychiatric health. A human genome-wide association study (GWAS) identified 19 candidate genes associated with sociability giving an entry into the mechanisms regulating this trait. However, given the high rate of false positive in GWAS, these genes need to be validated before further research can be initiated. Genetic validation in mice is very costly and time consuming. I therefore propose that studying Drosophila melanogaster as a simple and tractable model to study the genetics of sociability would be a great addition to studies in mice. I aim to find the extent of conservation of sociability genes between humans and Drosophila and then validate the conserved function of these genes in Drosophila and Mus musculus. First, I will perform a multi-trait GWAS in Drosophila to find sociability genes. I will then compare these genes obtained in an unbiased manner in Drosophila to the human sociability genes to verify the extent of conservation of the genetic architecture of sociability. Second, I will validate these sociability genes in Drosophila using mutant analysis. Confirmed genes in Drosophila will be validated in Mus musculus. In this project I will establish Drosophila as a model organism to investigate the function and mechanisms behind sociability. Additionally, I will start elucidating the evolutionary conserved genetic pathways that lead to variation in sociability and make a start in uncovering the mechanisms in the brain that regulate social interactions.  

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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