17 January 2023 – From single-celled organisms to humans, a basic form of learning called habituation is widespread, enabling focus on important aspects such as food or danger and the tuning out of irrelevant information. But genetic factors can cause habituation to go awry, contributing to disorders such as intellectual disabilities and autism. New EMBO Installation Grantee Michaela Fenckova aims to shine light on these effects by studying habituation in the fruit fly, Drosophila.
“How genetic defects lead to dysfunction of the brain habituation circuitry is still shrouded in mystery,” says Fenckova, who is based at the University of South Bohemia, České Budějovice, Czech Republic. “Around three-quarters of genes implicated in intellectual disability and autism also exist in Drosophila. We will use a high-throughput habituation assay to explore how they affect neuronal processes and impact learned behaviour that leads to habituation deficit in fruit flies.” The ultimate aim of her research is to provide a platform that can help to disentangle genetic and environmental effects leading to human conditions and hopefully support the search for treatments.
“It’s heartening to receive the support of an EMBO Installation Grant for this research and a terrific feeling that I can turn my research ideas into reality,” Fenckova adds. “The campus here is great and the University has been very supportive, providing dedicated facilities so that we can carry out the work. My team and I will benefit immensely from EMBO training and personal development courses, as well as the chance to further build networks and collaborations. I have always wanted to return to Czechia – all-in-all it’s a great opportunity.”