Algorithms and Circuits for Olfactory Navigation in Drosophila

February 23, 2021 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
Katherine Nagel, hosted by Rebecca Yang

Duke Neurobiology welcomes Katherine Nagel, PhD,
Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Physiology at the
NYU Grossman School of Medicine, to give her talk "Algorithms and Circuits for Olfactory Navigation in Drosophila." To join her virtual seminar on Zoom, please email
Partial abstract: Olfactory navigation provides a tractable model for studying the circuit basis of sensori-motor transformations and goal-directed behavior. Macroscopic organisms typically navigate in odor plumes that provide a noisy and uncertain signal about the location of an odor source. Work in many species has suggested that animals accomplish this task by combining temporal processing of dynamic odor information with an estimate of wind direction. Our lab has been using adult walking Drosophila to understand both the computational algorithms and the neural circuits that support navigation in a plume of attractive food odor. We developed a high-throughput paradigm to study behavioral responses to temporally-controlled odor and wind stimuli. Using this paradigm we found that flies respond to a food odor (apple cider vinegar) with two broad behaviors: during the odor they run upwind, while after odor loss they perform a local search. A simple computational model based on these two responses is sufficient to replicate many aspects of fly behavior in a natural turbulent plume.