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My lab:
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For almost two years now I've been trying to find out if insects have a default-mode network. Last year, I applied to the European Research Council, asking for the money for a microscope and some research staff. The reviewers loved the science:
Reviewer 1:
The project is conceptually interesting and original
Reviewer 2:
The project extrapolates from the popular concept of a default mode network derived from human work to propose a broad theory of interaction between operant and classical synaptic learning, basing the arguments on evolutionary principles and biochemical differences. The proposal consists in moving from man to drosophila and using sophisticated optical scanning methods and task free compared to stimulated flies (the description of behavioural manipulation techniques is fascinating). This is true frontiers research
Reviewer 3:
Ground breaking nature of research:
Yes, understanding background or resting activity is important.
Potential impact:
Recording from all different parts of the brain simultaneously with single cell resolution would be wonderful.
but were skeptical if we could pull it off technically. So we did some further experimentation, got some more experienced people in the boat,  re-wrote the application and submitted the revised version to this year's competition. In the meantime, other people had become interested in our little idea and also thought it was a fantastic project: The Scientist asked me to write a short article for them detailing my plans "Do fruit flies dream of electric bananas?". Clearly, people thought this was research worth pursuing. Last week, I got the reviews from this year's ERC competition back: not funded, again. What was the reason this time? The reviewers thought the technique was just fine, but they were unconvinced by the science! Just the opposite as last year!
Reviewer 1:
While the ambitious methodological aims of the project are spelt out quite clearly the actual neuroscience this would permit remains opaque.

Reviewer 2:
The proposal has an original and important conceptual framework, in that it aims to investigate the interactions between sensory driven task-related neural networks and spontaneous, default-mode networks that introduce randomness into behavioural patterns. It is not clear how the proposed experiments will actually address this question. The group will implement state-of-the-art imaging methods for rapid 4D 2-photon recordings of “spontaneous” GCaMP3 signals in the fly brain. Setting up the imaging system, already developed by another group, is envisioned to take 3 years, with 2 years then devoted to data acquisition and analysis. The group appears to have the expertise available to cope with the technical challenges. However, what will they learn from the spontaneous activity patterns they record? Where to look? How can you assume activity is not sensory-evoked, just because no explicit sensory input was applied? And most importantly, how can you address the functional significance of these activity patterns for ongoing behaviour? In short, the proposal does not even consider how they will determine the origin and impact of this spontaneous activity. The latter is of course particularly difficult, since the fly is not freely behaving, and the relationship between spontaneous neural activity and unpredictable behaviours can only be studies on a single-fly basis.

Reviewer 3:
Missing is a detailed description of what should be done after the microscope is up and running. The project plan itself contains too little scientific content, i.e. 60% of the time is planned to be spent to develop something that already exists, i.e. a 2P-microscope with AOD for fast scanning.
To summarize: the tools exist, we have the technological expertise to pull it off and the science is cutting-edge - we just didn't have all of that in the same application, even though both applications concerned the same project... Science funding doesn't have to make sense, apparently.
Posted on Thursday 07 April 2011 - 08:57:30 comment: 0
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