Research in the laboratory focusses on the evolution of the nervous system in relation to behaviour from cellular biophysics to decision making. We want to understand three key questions: (1) how does the nervous system generate behaviour? (2) How do changes in the nervous system affect the behaviour it generates? and (3) How do selective pressures influence the evolution of the nervous system? Of particular interest is the trade-off between the energy consumption and information processing in neurons and neural circuits. Energy is consumed mainly by the electrical signals neurons use to process and transmit information. This makes neural tissue expensive; 20% of the resting metabolism of adult humans is consumed by the brain, whilst 8% of the resting metabolism of a fly is consumed by the eye. Many animals have limited amounts of energy to expend on neural processing but they must maintain information processing if they are to produce adaptive behaviour. This produces a trade-off that has influenced all aspects of the nervous system from the ion channels neurons express to the distribution of axon diameters to the overall size of the brain.
The laboratory uses a variety of techniques to investigate the nervous system include single neuron intracellular electrophysiology, extracellular recordings of neurons, staining of single neurons, transmission and scanning electron microscopy and high-speed videography. All these techniques are used in conjunction with computational modelling, which helps us to understand the general principles of information coding in neurons and neural circuits. Our work is mainly focusses on insects, though we do occassionally work (or collaborate with other research groups that work) with vertebrates. By working on insects, which typcially have many fewer neurons that mammals, we aim to find fundamental principles that help us understand all nervous systems.