Sama Ahmed - Moving Songs: Probing multitasking in Drosophila

Event Details:

Thursday, April 28, 2022
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12:00pm to 1:00pm PDT
Event Sponsor
Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute
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Wu Tsai Neuro's weekly seminar series is being held virtually during the spring quarter. We hope to be able to bring the community together for in-person seminars again in the fall.

Community members interested in meeting with this week's speaker should contact host Ashley Smart of the Clandinin Lab.

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Sama Ahmed

Princeton Neuroscience Institute

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Dr. Sama Ahmed has a B.S. in Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of California San Francisco. As a graduate student in Dr. Nirao Shah's lab, he studied evolutionary mechanisms that control social behaviors. For his postdoctoral fellowship, he has been working with Dr. Mala Murthy at Princeton University, where he is using computational approaches to study Drosophila acoustic communication. His research interests span systems neuroscience, cognitive psychology, evolutionary biology, and genetics. Currently, he is most excited about studying the neurobiology of multitasking as a way to test how nervous systems generate and constrain different behaviors. This fall, he launches his own lab at the Department of Psychology at University of Washington—Seattle.

Moving Songs: Probing multitasking in Drosophila


Locomotion, such as walking or flying, is vitally important for the survival and fitness of practically all animals, and regularly occurs in tandem with other motor actions. Human locomotion, for example, may occur concurrently with talking, and similarly, Drosophila flies can walk and produce complex acoustic signals called “courtship songs”. While many components of the neural circuits that control either walking or singing have been identified, the neural substrates that couple these behaviors during multitasking are entirely unknown. Here, I show how Drosophila courtship behavior can be leveraged as a neuroethological model for studying multitasking.

During courtship, male flies must attend to and keep up with their potential mates, all the while producing the right songs at the right times by correctly vibrating their wings. My results show that fly chase-and-stop courtship sequences exhibit hallmarks of multitasking: male flies either walk, or sing, or perform both behaviors simultaneously. Through optogenetic activation of locomotor neurons in freely-courting male flies and new machine-learning methods for automated behavioral analysis, I reveal performance differences in how flies walk or sing (single-tasking) compared to when they walk and sing (multitasking). These results demonstrate that the fly courtship model is an advantageous and promising framework for characterizing and testing the neurogenetic control of multitasking. These experiments provide a strong foundation and entry point for probing circuit mechanisms that underlie multitasking via brain-wide neural recordings in behaving animals. Identifying these mechanisms will inform our understanding of how neural pathways interact to control, or limit, behavioral simultaneity.

About the Wu Tsai Neuro Seminar Series

The Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute seminar series brings together the Stanford neuroscience community to discuss cutting-edge brain research, including imaging, neuro-engineering, computational approaches, theory, translational neuroscience, human neuroscience and basic neurobiology.

Unless otherwise noted, seminars are held Thursdays at 12:00 noon PT.