Neurobiology and Genetics

    Currently Funded Projects

    Evolutionary and seasonal adaptation of the fruit fly circadian clock

    Our investigations will provide the first basis in understanding the role of the circadian clock in seasonal adaptation using the well characterized model Drosophila melanogaster. In addition, we will contribute to the understanding of circadian clock evolution by investigating fruit fly species adapted for a life at different latitudes.

    For more information on the projects FO 207/15-1 and ME 4866/1-1 that are both part of this research work, please click on the projects respectively

    FO 207/15-1

    ME 4866/1-1



    FP7-People-2012-ITN: INsecTIME

    Animals have to adapt to seasonal changes in the environment. A too late adaptation to the coming winter will definitively cause their death. Insect start to hibernate (=diapause) when temperatures drop and day-length (photoperiod) decreases below a certain critical value. It is generally thought that the circadian clock is crucial to measure day-length, but the mechanisms how this is done and how the signals about day-lengths are transformed to the diapause inducing hormonal centres in the insect brain are largely unknown.

    This Marie Curie Network aims to uncover the mechanisms of photoperiodic control in four model species: The parasitoid wasp, Nasonia vitripennis, the Lindenbug, Pyrrhochoris apterus, the Olive fly, Bactrocera oleae and the genetic model system Drosophila melanogaster. ..more



    Collaborative Research Center 1047: Timing in Insects: Mechanisms, Plasticity and Interactions

    Funded at the Julius-Maximilians-University of Würzburg from 2013 to 2017

    Timing plays an important role in all living systems. Endogenous clocks enable organisms to anticipate and adapt to daily or seasonal variation in environmental conditions. Being at the right time at the right place crucially determines the chance to find sufficient food, the success of mating, the success in raising brood, the chance to synchronise with mutualistic interaction partners and the likelihood to escape antagonists or harmful environmental events. Thus, proper timing of development, maturation, population phenology and a wide range of different behaviours is of paramount importance for the reproductive success and survival of all animals. Under laboratory conditions, the molecular basis of daily timing via endogenous clocks is intensively studied in few model organisms such as Drosophila melanogaster. However, little is known about the functional impact of such clocks in real nature. Our knowledge on timing mechanisms on time scales exceeding one day is even scarcer and restricted to few species. We also do not know how endogenous clocks and other timing mechanisms promote the adaptation to changing environmental conditions. Further, the impact of clocks and other evolutionary achieved timing mechanisms on the fitness of individuals, eusocial insect colonies, or on the synchronisation of multitrophic biotic interactions are little understood.

    The Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) addresses these important questions using anintegrative approach. We focus on insects, since insects are in particular masters in behavioural timing and in adapting quickly to changing environmental conditions, which made them the predominant animal taxon on our planet with enormous ecological impact. We investigate mechanisms of proper timing in selected species at the molecular, cellular and neuronal networklevels, analyze the influence of timing on individual behaviour and interactions in social groups,populations, and communities, and, ultimately, determine the impact of proper timing on fitness. Each of these levels is important for its own sake. Yet, the new and important step we take here is to integrate the analyses of the different proximate/mechanistic levels of timing into an ecological context (success on a daily base, throughout the individual life span, and across generations).

    The proposed CRC intends to establish a platform integrating different biological subdisciplines
    ranging from molecular biology via neuroethology to ecology in order to promote vivid synergistic interactions among them. The research of this CRC goes beyond current studies in the individual biological disciplines and brings together ecological concepts with mechanistic research on the molecular, neuronal and organismic level. Our long term goal is to elucidate the proximate mechanisms underlying timing, and at the same time, unravel the ultimate  consequences of proper timing for fitness in real ecosystems and in the context of global  environmental change. more


    CRC A1: The circadian clock network of selected insects

    A prerequisite for understanding the daily timing in insects is the functional characterization of the neuronal clock network in the brain. We propose to contribute to this quest by investigating the clock circuitry and the behaviour of different Drosophila species with sequenced genomes and known ecological habitats (of different latitudes and altitudes). In addition, we will start to characterise the clock of selected hymenopteran species and two aphid morphs studied in projects of areas B and C at the molecular and neuronal level. more

    CRC A2: Role of photoreceptors in synchronising Drosophila’s clock to natural conditions

    In order to adequately time behaviour, endogenous clocks need to be synchronized to the cyclic environmental changes. Light is the most important Zeitgeber for circadian clocks. In D. melanogaster light is perceived by rhodopsins in the compound eyes, the ocelli and an extraretinal eyelet at the base of the posterior compound eye. In addition, the blue-light photopigment cryptochrome (CRY) is expressed in the eyes and in many clock neurons. Both, rhodopsins and CRY contribute to entrainment of the clock in different ways. Here we aim to clarify the individual functional roles of all photoreceptors in synchronizing the flies’ activity and in timing it optimally to natural light conditions. more

    CRC B2: Timing of peptide-orchestrated eclosion behaviour in the fruit fly Drosophila

    A key question in neuroscience is to identify the neuronal substrates underlying behaviour. Insect eclosion (i.e. the emergence of the adult insect from the pupa) is a classic model for the orchestration of a behaviour by neuropeptides. In many insects like Drosophila, eclosion is gated (=timed) by the circadian clock. Eclosion assays have been used by Konopka and Benzer in the early 70ies to identify the first clock gene (period). more


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