Kristin Branson

Kristin Branson is developing machine vision and learning programs to define and quantify key behaviors in large numbers of flies and connect them to particular neuronal circuits and genetic pathways. During her graduate studies in computer science at the University of California, San Diego, Branson began turning her attention to harnessing the power of computers and mathematical algorithms to solve questions in biology. While working in a laboratory focused on machine learning—the science of getting computers to recognize complex patterns in data—she collaborated with biologists in the university’s animal care facility. She designed a computer vision program for them to track and monitor the positions of mice in cages. Branson continued with the same line of research as a postdoc in the labs of Pietro Perona and Michael Dickinson at the California Institute of Technology—this time working with more sophisticated computer programs and tracking the positions of flies instead of mice. Perona, Dickinson, Branson, and their colleagues built freely available software called Ctrax ( that converts infrared video of up to 50 walking flies into movement data. The software then analyzes the data to provide a quantitative description of the animals’ behavior. They found, for example, that female flies can be distinguished from male flies by how often they turn—a difference in behavior that researchers had not previously detected by observing flies.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Farm

Talk title
Mapping the neural substrates of behavior using computer vision