The goal of the NSF-funded Neuronex consortium is to develop tools and protocols for in vivo imaging of neuronal activity in diverse non-model organisms. The Washington University Neuronex team (in conjunction with Gene Robinson’s group from The University of Illinois) is focusing on development of tools for social insect species; beginning with the well-studied Schistocerca americana (American grasshopper) and Apis mellifera (Honey Bee).

Our approach to achieve this goal is to adapt existing CRISPR/Cas9 insect techniques (primarily derived from the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster) to work in these less molecularly developed species. In each case, the well-conserved white gene will be targeted to introduce the GCaMP7f transgene into the new species’ genome under the control of a neuron-specific promoter. Insertion of the transgene will be easily selected by the disruption of white, which will confer white eyes to the normally dark-eyed animals.

Once a stable transgenic line is established, the neuronal GCaMP7f will allow researchers to study defined neuronal populations during visual, tactile, olfactory and gustatory interactions; providing insights into the molecular cues that underlie complex social interactions in organisms with relatively few neurons.

Heads of Drosophila melanogaster from wild type animals (top left, red eyes) and transgenic white eyed animals (bottom left, white eyes). The white gene of the transgenic animals has been disrupted with an inserted DNA construct that confers red fluorescence when viewed with appropriate filters (bottom right).