Research in the Pulver lab is focused on uncovering principles of pattern generation and action selection in locomotor networks. We use the larval locomotor system in Drosophila for our work because it offers an attractive compromise between complexity and tractability. One the one hand, larval locomotor networks are comprised of thousands of neurons, and larval locomotion is surprisingly complex, involving precise coordination many body segments and many degrees of freedom. On the other hand, Drosophila molecular genetic tools allow for identification and manipulation of single identified neurons, something that is difficult to achieve in larger networks. This combination allows for fine-grained manipulation of critical circuit components, but also provides toe-holds into understanding the genetic logic underlying circuit formation in locomotor networks. Work in the lab is highly integrative, involving everything from genetics to anatomy to electrophyisology and live imaging to animal behaviour. Since the Drosophila nervous system shares many of the same molecular genetic building blocks observed in spinal networks, our work is well positioned to provide insights and foundations for work in vertebrates.
A second focus of the lab is centered on making cutting edge neuroscience accessible for educators and laypeople. Fruit flies are very cost effective vehicles for teaching principles of genetics, molecular biology, cellular physiology, and animal behaviour. As our research moves forward, in parallel, we adapt our fly work for use in classrooms and teaching laboratories. We then work with educators to design, implement and disseminate inquiry-based teaching modules that teach integrative neuroscience.