Neuromechanics of Prey Capture

Sensing, tracking, and then attacking other animals to consume is one of the most highly evolved and complex behaviors animals perform. We study the mechanical and neural principles underlying this behavior in two model systems: the larval zebrafish, Danio rerio, and the black ghost electric knifefish, Apteronotus albifrons. Larval zebrafish are a leading vertebrate genetic model system. While only 4 mm long, their brains contain all the key vertebrate brain modules packaged within a completely transparent body. This enables visualization of the function of the nervous system at level beyond what is possible in any other vertebrate. In collaboration with Prof. David McLean at Northwestern, we are analyzing prey capture behavior and key midbrain circuits to understand how brains process complex stimuli in the generation of motor programs. Black ghost knifefish are an ideal system for detailed analysis of how the brain performs signal processing on sensory signals, and provide an exquisite system for the analysis of the mechanics of agility.

4 millimeter long larval zebrafish hunts 0.1 millimeter long Paramecium. Shot at 250 frames per second, movie exported at 30 FPS. Total actual time: just under one second.

The same prey capture event after automated tracking combined with some postprocessing to extract curvature (heat map), and body velocity (blue line) and body angle (green line).


Prof. David McLean, Department of Neurobiology, Northwestern University

Past Collaborators: Bradley Patterson and Allie Salomon

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