Benjamin de Bivort

Assistant Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

Phone: 617-230-3769
Office: Northwest Lab, Room 235.30, 52 Oxford St. Cambridge, MA 02138

Individual animals with identical genomes, reared identically, nevertheless exhibit behavioral differences. This underpins our sense of individuality. Where these inter-individual differences arise in the causal cascade from transcription to gene products to cellular physiology to neural circuit information processing is unknown. As brain connectivity and activity projects accelerate, a methodological framework is needed to link variation in molecular and circuit features with variation in behavior. We have begun developing this framework using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster whose transgenic toolkit enables experimental probing of all these causal levels.

We have previously shown that individual flies have dramatically different behaviors that persist throughout their lifespans. This was seen in numerous behaviors including light response, locomotor handedness and wing-folding. Importantly, we have discovered that the degree of behavioral variability (how atypical outliers are) is under the active control of a suite of neuronally-expressed genes and circuits in the locomotor decision-making center of the brain. How do these circuit and genes interact to regulate the extent of behavioral variability (e.g. are the genes we have discovered required in cic- or trans- with respect to the circuits we have discovered)? What is the relationship between gene expression and an individual's behavior? Can we discover engrams of individuality (specific morphological or physiological circuit features that dictate an individual's behavior)? We are engaging these questions using the entire Drosophila toolkit, including neuronal silencing/activation, gene over-expression/silencing, optophysiological recording, correlation with behavioral biases at the individual level, custom robotics and automation (to enable high throughput experiments), and quantitative modeling to understand the role of behavioral variation within its original ecological and evolutionary context.

Recent Publications

Buchanan S, Kain J, de Bivort B. (2014) Neuronal control of locomotor handedness in Drosophila. Preprint on

Ayroles J, Buchanan S, O'Leary C, Skutt-Kakaria K, Grenier J, Clark A, Hartl D, de Bivort B. (2014). Behavioral individuality reveals genetic control of phenotypic variability. Preprint on

Kain J, Zhang S, Klein M, Samuel A, de Bivort B. (2014). Bet-hedging, seasons and the evolution of behavioral diversity in Drosophila. Preprint on

Kane E, Gershow M, Afonso B, Laderet I, Klein M, Carter A, de Bivort B, Sprecher S, Samuel A. (2013). Sensorimotor structure of Drosophila larval phototaxis. PNAS 110(40): E3868-E3877. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1215295110

Giribet G, de Bivort B, Hitchcock A, Swart P. (2013). On Speleosiro argasiformis a troglobitic Cyphophthalmi (Arachnida:Opiliones:Pettalidae) from Table Mountain, South Africa. J Arach 41: 416-419.

Kain J, Stokes C, Guadry Q, Song X, Foley J, Wilson R, de Bivort B. (2013). Leg-tracking and automated behavioural classification in Drosophila. Nat Comm 4:1910. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2908

Gaudry Q, Hong E, Kain J, de Bivort B, Wilson R. (2013). Asymmetric neurotransmitter release enables rapid odour lateralization in Drosophila. Nature 493: 424-428. doi: 10.1038/nature11747

Kain J, Stokes C, de Bivort B. (2012). Phototactic personality in fruit flies and its suppression by serotonin and white. PNAS 109(48): 19834-19839. doi: 10.1073/pnas1211988109

Song E, de Bivort B, Chuntao D, Kunes S. (2012). Determinants of the Drosophila odorant receptor pattern. Dev Cell 22(2):363-376. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2011.12.015

de Bivort B, Clouse R, Giribet G. (2012). A cladistic reconstruction of the ancestral mite harvestman (Arachnida, Opiliones, Cyphophthalmi): portrait of a Paleozoic detritivore. Cladistics 28(6): 582-597. doi: 10.1111/j.1096-0031.2012.00407.x

Raz S, Graham J, Cohen A, de Bivort B, Grishkan I, Nevo E. (2012). Growth and asymmetry of soil microfungi colonies from "Evolution Canyon," Lower Nahal Oren, Mount Carmel, Israel. PLoS ONE 7(4): e34689. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034689

Courses Taught

OEB 131. Neuroethology
OEB 380. Neurobiological Basis of Behavior


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