Internationally renowned scientist is coming to Martinsried for one year

Fabrizio Gabbiani is going to dissect motion vision together with Alexander Borst

July 30, 2012

Professor Fabrizio Gabbiani of Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) will enrich the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology’ s research landscape for a year, starting in August this year. He is the recipient of the prestigious research prize of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. In Martinsried, Gabbiani will work in the department of Professor Alexander Borst. Here, he will integrate his own research with the department’s work. Together, the two scientists plan to uncover the mechanisms that underlie motion vision in the fruit fly Drosophila.

Fabrizio Gabbiani’s research group at BCM works in the field of Theoretical Neurobiology. They mathematically model jump escape behaviors in grasshoppers. One of their findings is that this motion sequence is initiated by the multiplication of two neuronal signals in the brain. The research results have been published in well-known scientific journals such as Nature and Science. A similar multiplication operation also underlies motion vision, which lies in the center of Alexander Borst’s research interests. His department at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology investigates how flies perceive motion.

In 2009, Gabbiani developed a device that allows to stimulate individual facets of the insect eye. Combining theory and experiment in a unique way, Borst and Gabbiani are going to try to identify the neuronal basis for motion vision in the fruit fly. To reach this goal, they will redesign Gabbiani’s device so that it fits the fruit fly’s eye. It should then be possible to excite single photoreceptors behind the facets of a fly’s eye and afterward by electrical recording to identify those nerve cells that are responsible for processing motion information. In addition, the scientists want to further characterize this system by blocking the activity of certain neurons. The expected change in the neuronal response will also be a topic of future studies and hopefully give insight into the design of motion vision circuits in the fly. This scientific exchange will help elucidate what has been a scientific conundrum for many decades: How the brain sees motion.


Fabrizio Gabbiani studied Physics and Mathematics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Here, he also earned his PhD in Mathematical Physics for his studies on algebraic quantum field theory. Afterwards, he continued his scientific career at the California Institute of Technology. In 2006, he became Associate Professor at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston/Texas, in the Department of Neuroscience.

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