The Power of a Fruit Fly

Hayle Kim, COL ’25, Knoxville, TN

I began working in the Kayser Lab in November of my freshman year as a work-study student, hoping to explore my curiosity of sleep through research. As a full time research assistant this summer, I had the opportunity to begin a project under the direction of my PI, Dr. Matthew Kayser, and my postdoctoral mentor, Dr. Jeffrey Rosa, titled “The role of dopaminergic neurons in the sleep maturation of Drosophila”. The ten weeks I’ve spent in the lab have been packed with trial, error, and most importantly, growth.

This summer, the generous support of Career Services Summer Funding allowed me to dive into my long-standing interest in sleep in ways I couldn’t have imagined. The Kayser Lab at the Perelman School of Medicine and Department of Psychiatry uses the Drosophila Melanogaster to study sleep, brain development, and behavior. At first, I was confused by how a fruit fly could possibly be useful to study these intricate concepts. Throughout my summer, however, I learned that this tiny organism is a powerhouse of knowledge that gives us insight into complex neural processes. Not only that, but homologous chromosomes between the fly and human show us that these research findings can translate to higher organisms.

The project focused on understanding the reasons for which young animals sleep more than adult animals do – specifically, what controls a change in the activity of sleep-inhibiting dopaminergic neurons throughout fly maturation? My main objective was to use RNAi to knock down the expression of different genes that have higher levels of expression in the dopaminergic neurons of adult flies than juvenile flies. Using previous single cell RNA sequencing work and the GAL4-UAS binary gene expression system, I used the Drosophila Activity Monitoring system to analyze sleep phenotypes and determine if mature flies slept like young flies after the knockdown. In addition to this primary objective, I learned how to image fly brains using wide field and confocal microscopy and ran experiments on flies with mutated photoreceptors in their eyes. I have also been able to take on intellectual challenges such as setting up successive fly crosses to build the “perfect fly” through genetic recombination. By attending lab meetings, data blitzes, and journal clubs, I learned what collaboration looks like in a scientific sense and got a glimpse into other exciting projects in the lab.

In addition to my research experience, I spent a few days shadowing in the Neonatal units of CHOP and HUP. I observed the daily work of a neonatologist, from watching the delivery of a baby girl with a single pelvic kidney to observing a Minimally Invasive Surfactant Therapy procedure that has only recently made its way to the United States. These experiences solidified my desire to pursue a career in medicine, and I hope to bridge my interests between neonatology and sleep studies as a physician-scientist in the future.

Career Services Summer Funding allowed me to focus my attention fully on my experiences rather than worrying about living expenses associated with staying in a different city for a whole summer. I am beyond grateful for the opportunities I was presented with this summer and am excited to continue my time with the Kayser Lab, expanding my knowledge of neuroscience.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2022 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services