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Vanessa Ruta studies how individual experience and evolutionary selection shape nervous systems to generate flexible variations in behavior. Ruta and her team use the concise neural circuitry of Drosophila as a window into adaptive behaviors, from sensory detection to motor implementation. Combining protein structure, molecular genetics, and recordings of neural dynamics in behaving animals, they seek to understand how behaviors can be modified over different timescales at the level of receptors, synapses, and circuits. Working across members of the Drosophila genus, the team’s goal is to reveal how the core neural algorithms of complex behaviors are flexibly tailored to the needs of an individual or a species.