SPUR 2019: Thirst, excretion and the response to dehydration


Multicellular organisms maintain homeostasis of the internal milieu for optimal cellular functioning. This includes homeostasis of electrolyte concentrations, osmolality and pH. During dehydration, a rise in osmolality sensed by osmosensing neurons in the brain triggers release of a hormone that stimulates water retention by the kidney, and also results in increased thirst and drinking behavior. Using the powerful genetic model organism, Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly), we have developed assays to look at both drinking behavior and excretion during periods of dehydration. Published work, which we have recapitulated, has shown that manipulating genes in osmosensing neurons in the fly brain changes drinking behavior in dehydrated flies. Based on this, we are interested in whether manipulating other genes of interest will change drinking behavior and excretion by the fly.

Student Role

Our SPUR student will have a hands-on role in this project, under the guidance of an experienced (and friendly) postdoctoral fellow who has prior experience supervising undergraduates. First, the student will perform the necessary fly crosses to generate the flies needed for testing in experiments. Then, the student will test the flies in drinking behavior and excretion. We have also developed a “mini-osmometer” to measure osmolality of small quantities of fly hemolymph (equivalent to the plasma of the fly), and our student will use the mini-osmometer to perform these measurements in genetically manipulated flies. Data will be analyzed using GraphPad Prism and the student will be guided through statistical analysis and data presentation.

Student Learning Outcomes & Benefits

Our SPUR student will learn about Drosophila genetics and the physiology of salt and water handling in both insects and mammals. The student will have the opportunity to plan and perform experiments, and analyze and present data, which may also be included in a publication. This is a great opportunity to get a hands-on feel for a basic science lab, and is appropriate for students who are considering a future career in a life sciences setting, graduate school in the biological sciences, medical school, or simply want to try out research. This experience can also be a starting point for an ongoing research project (for local students), including Honors Thesis, UROP, abstract submission and attendance of a national meeting, and contributing to a publication.

Aylin Rodan
Assistant Professor

Internal Medicine
School of Medicine
Molecular Biology Program

My mentoring philosophy is to provide students with enough guidance and supervision that they do not feel lost, and enough independence that they can learn from mistakes and develop and try out new ideas. Our SPUR student will work directly with an experienced postdoctoral fellow, who is their “point person” for day to day experiments, and also learn from other students, postdocs and scientists in the lab. The student will participate in our weekly lab meeting and have an opportunity to present and discuss their project with other lab members, as well as to learn from others in the lab. The student will also meet with the PI on a weekly basis to discuss results and upcoming experiments. The PI will also provide feedback on the SPUR abstract and poster, and help the student prepare for the poster presentation. Finally, the PI will provide career advice and guidance tailored to the student’s interests and goals.