The Moehring lab studies the genetic and neural basis of complex traits. We use the model system of Drosophila due to the extensive genetic and molecular tools this species offers. We use a mix of quantitative genetics, molecular genetics, neuroscience, cellular biology, and behavioural assays in order to understand these complex traits.
Genetic Variation and Behaviour:
Natural selection acts upon variation in a trait, making the identification of genes contributing to trait variation critical to our understanding of evolutionary genetics. Animals exhibit a wide array of behaviours that are necessary for survival and reproduction, yet very little is known about the genetic basis of variation in these behaviours. Our work focuses on identifying the genetic basis of variation in female mate rejection behaviour, both within and between species.
Neural Basis of Female Behaviours:
The traits of mating behavior and aggression have been extensively studied at the neural level in males, but are poorly understood in females. We use the excellent tools available in Drosophila to identify individual neurons and neural circuitry underlying female mate rejection and female aggression.
Genetic Basis of Species Isolation due to Hybrid Sterility:
In cases where species are able to hybridize, the resulting offspring are often sterile, yet the genetic basis of this mechanism (which prevents species from merging) is poorly understood. Using a combination of gene expression assays and quantitative genetic mapping, our research seeks to identify the genetic basis of hybrid sterility.
Effect of mistranslating tRNAs on neurodegeneration:
The process of translating RNA into protein has to be precise in order to maintain the proper quality and balance of proteins within the cell. One of the primary molecues involved in translation is tRNA, and each genome contains many copies of these tRNAs. While this process should be highly constrained and robust, there are a surprising number of naturally-occurring tRNA variants that would cause mistranslation within an organism. In a collaboration with three other labs at Western (Brandl, O'Donoghue, Duennwald) we have developed the first multicellular model of mistranslating tRNAs. We are testing the effect of this mistranslation on fitness and neural function, and quantifying whether there is a compounded effect when mistranslating tRNAs are combined with gene products that also disrupt protein function, such as those undlerlying certain neurodegenerative diseases.