The dragonfly is a formidable aerial predator, intercepting small insects in flight with remarkable speed and accuracy. Professor Rob Olberg works with his students to unravel the neural basis for this behavior. Employing research techniques such as high speed video capture, intracellular microelectrode recording and fluorescent dye injection, and ensemble recording with extracellular electrodes, they are working out the way in which a small group of neurons control prey pursuit. Specifically, they are studying a small group of visual neurons called Target-Selective Descending Neurons, which project from the dragonfly’s brain to flight control centers of the thorax. The goal is to understand the way in which these neurons encode the prey’s trajectory, how their signals are used to guide the dragonfly, and more generally, how nervous systems control movement in relation to moving objects.
Photograph by Tom D. Schultz