About This Project
We want to find out how animals use spatial information to track an odor. The American Cockroach is a uniquely well suited model, because its incredibly long antennae (which are effectively insects' "noses") allow it to smell across a wide area at one time. We will investigate how spatial odor information is encoded in the nervous system. By examining how the brain coordinates odor information with locomotion, we will generate new insights about the control of insect behavior.
Ask the ScientistsJoin The Discussion
What is the context of this research?
The American Cockroach (Periplaneta americana) is an amazing odor tracker. They use their incredibly long antennae to smell; the whole antenna is their "nose" and because the antennae are each as long as their body, they are smelling across a large distance at one time. We have published behavioral data suggesting they make use of the spatial odor information provided by their antennae. There is other neural data showing that these cockroaches have a spatial odor map of their antenna in the antennal lobe. We would like to know what kind of information this spatial map sends out to the rest of the animal's brain, especially a region called the central complex, which is responsible for organizing sensory information with motor output.
What is the significance of this project?
There are two main things we will learn from this project: first, we will learn how the central complex responds to odor. This will be valuable no matter the result, as no on one has ever published recordings from the central complex in an insect while providing an odor stimulus. Second, we hope to learn if and how spatial information is encoded in the central complex.
Knowing what odor information is passed along to the central complex will give us good insight into how the animal makes decisions when tracking an odor. If we know how changes in the odor stimuli are summarized and passed along in the nervous system, we can build better models of odor tracking behavior, which can lead to better odor tracking robots (e.g., for finding chemical leaks, bombs, people in natural disaster sites).
What are the goals of the project?
The ultimate goal of this project is to understand how odor information is summarized and passed along in the nervous system. Our current odor tracking models use odor information as it is presented to the antennae, but by knowing what information is presented to the part of the brain that controls movement, we can improve our model of odor tracking. With better models, we can make better predictions of how the animals behave under different situations, and by having better predictions we can design more effective and efficient experiments in the future.
We will accomplish this by using bundled micro-wire electrodes to record from the cockroach brain while using our odor delivery system to stimulate regions of the antennae.
For this project we will modify a setup currently being used to make similar recordings in hawkmoths. We will need to build an odor delivery system tailored to the cockroach's long, slender antennae that can stimulate at isolated locations along the antennae. Thus, we need plastic filament for our 3D printer to make holders for the antennae that can direct odor flow; an array of solenoid valves (electronic valves we can use to turn odor on and off) with a data acquisition board and other components to control them; glass vials to hold the odor sources; and teflon tubing to carry the odor to the antennae holder.
To verify our brain recordings we need tissue stains to mark where the electrode is placed and time in a neuroimaging facility to image the brain after recording.
Meet the Team
The Willis Lab focuses on the neural basis of behavior. The lab has a strong background in studying how visual and olfactory systems are used by insects to navigate an environment. We have a large wind tunnel for studying odor tracking behaviours, and two virtual reality rigs set up to record from a moth's nervous system while providing both visual and olfactory stimuli. In short, we have the experience and most of the resources needed to conduct these experiments.
Jacob K. Lockey
Jacob is the senior PhD student in the Willis Lab at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio. He is chiefly interested in how animals use their senses to navigate their environment. Jacob's PhD dissertation is focusing on how American Cockroaches (Periplaneta americana) might track odors to their source using a spatial odor map of their uniquely long antennae. It is not uncommon for cockroaches to lose all or part of an antenna, and Jacob has published a study showing that the length of the antennae is important in predicting how well a cockroach can track an odor. He is also building computer models to examine how spatial odor maps can aid in odor tracking.
The starting point for everything we do in the lab is behavior. The behavior that we study is odor-modulated locomotion – specifically how flying and walking insects track odor plumes to locate important resources like food and mates. The animals we study and compare are the tobacco hornworm moth, Manduca sexta, and the American cockroach, Periplaneta americana. The experiments in our lab are aimed at two goals: 1) understanding how plume tracking animals use information from many types of sensors (i.e., odor, visual & wind) to follow wind-borne plumes of odor, and 2) understanding how moths generate and control their flight maneuvers to adapt to different tasks and environments. Our most recent series of experiments aimed at understanding plume tracking are focused on how the structure of the behavior results from an interaction of the environment (wind & odor), size and structure of the antennae, and mode and speed of locomotion (walking and flight). The most recent set of flight control experiments are aimed at understanding the role of touch sensors on the wings and body in the generation and control of wing movements during maneuvering. In these flight experiments we use plume tracking behavior as a tool to activate and direct flight for easy, reliable data collection.
Kim is the Willis Lab's research technician. She has a Masters from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio.
Partha is a Postdoctoral researcher in the Willis Lab at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. He received his Ph.D. from the National Center for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India.
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