10th-29th October 2011

School of Health Sciences
Kampala International University, Bushenyi, Uganda

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Setting up an insect neuroscience and Drosophila neurogenetics lab in Uganda

Picture 1. Students learning about fly genetics by looking through
the four donated dissecting microscopes.

We have now successfully completed the first week of the course, and I have been here now for two weeks. On the first week I was setting up the lab. I brought with me 6 big suitcases (on average 25Kg each, some more and some less) with most of the equipment. Isa, and Lola also brought some equipment, and Marta and Tom some consumables. In the end we now have a pretty well equipped lab. We have four dissecting scopes that we use for fly work and dissections(see picture 1, donations from the Department of Zoology at Cambridge, and Richard Morris).
We also have one inverted compound microscope (Donated by Jim Haseloff) where to look at fluorescent Drosophila brains. We have fitted it in one corner and make a "dark room" with an improvised curtain, which actually works pretty well (see picture 2).
Figure 2 (b). Fluorescent microscope
inside the "dark room".

Picture 2 (a). "Dark room" created to
house the fluorescent microscope

We also have two larval behavioural set-ups (see picture 3) each of them consisting of a webcam attached to a computer, and a behavioural arena consisting of a peltier device (cooling module from old computers that we use to control temperature precisely by connecting it to two A batteries) to manipulate neuronal activity in neurons of genetically modified larvae (expressing UAS-shibts, and UAS-DTripA).
Figure 3. Larval behavioural set-up. Total cost: aprox. £60
(Computer: £30, webcam: £17, peltier device: £10, fan: £0)

The lab is also now equipped with 6 small neurophysiology amplifiers, which are a loan from the Department of Zoology at Cambridge, where they were built. Glen Harrison, who made the amplifiers at Cambridge, has kindly send us the planes so that they can be built here locally (see picture 4). We also have a soldering station to make electrodes locally as we need them (see picture 5).
Picture 4. Electrophysiology rig consisting of custom made amplifiers
conected directly to the audio port of the  laptops, and acquired using 
SpikeHound. In the picture is also visible a manupilator, the plates were
we place the insects for the recordings, and a wax melter, loan from 
the Bate lab. On the top picture you can see a grasshopper from which we 
were recording action potentials by inserting an electrode in the leg muscles.

Picture 5. Soldering station to make our
own electrodes

Additionally we have brought two patch amplifiers (donation from Leon Lagnado at LMB in Cambridge, and Bernardo Sabatini at Harvard University), which Tom will teach the students and faculty of the university how to use, and that will be used in the future for research. We also have an AM-Systems amplifier (loan from the Kravitz lab), and two acquisition boards (loan from AD instruments), to exemplify the more expensive options in electrophysiology, and compare it to the more economical custom made amplifiers. For acquiring the electrophysiology data we are using the open source software SpikeHound, and for its analysis the also open source program Spikepy. We also have 6 videocameras (donations from the Kravitz lab.) to perform courtship, and aggression behavioural experiments, and 7 laptops, whose story we shared in a previous post. And of course more than a hundred fly stocks that happily traveled from Cambridge. Additionally, we keep catching big insects on a daily basis with improvised traps to perform neurophysiology on them (see picture 6).
Picture 6. Collection of big insects in
our improvised cages.

Initially, as the room temperature during the day is around 23C which approximates the 25C at which we regularly keep our incubators, we were just leaving the flies outside.  However during the night the temperature falls to around 17C, and it becomes quite difficult to plan the crosses to be ready for the experiments on a particular day. If you know how much an incubator cost, you probably already understand why we don't have an incubator here. However, what we do have is an old oven, which by playing with the temperature knob we have managed to convert in an improvised incubator (see picture 7).
Picture 7.Oven used as
incubator by regulating the
temperature to aprox. 25C

I think we have done a pretty good job in transforming the initial Pharmacology lab, into a insect neuroscience and Drosophila neurogenetics lab. (see picture 8).
Figure 8. Picture of the lab on the day I arrived, and today, with all the equipment that we brought over.


  1. Hiya,

    Congrats on getting the course going. Sorry to spam you, but wondering if you and your students might be interested in our spin off project from FlyBase to integrate neuro-anatomy and genetics:




  2. Nice post! Can’t wait for the next one. Keep stuff like this coming.

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