Evripidis Gkanias

Research project title: 
Insect Neuroethology of Reinforcement Learning
Research project: 

The goal of my project is to investigate how insects acquire and retrieve memories, adapt to their environment and update their behaviour using their mushroom bodies (MB), with application in robotics. I have come up with a neural circuit called the 'incentive circuit' that allows primitive, short- and long-term memory formation as well as transferring memories between the short- and long-term. This circuit is anatomically accurate and all the neurons and connections have been identified in the Drosophila melanogaster fruit fly. In addition, I have come up with a novel dopaminergic plasticity rule, which is based on recent findings of how dopamine works in mushroom bodies. This plasticity rule enables the hosting system (e.g., neural circuit) to create the necessary associations, but also to adapt to repeating inputs or forget inputs that are rarely experienced. Our incentive circuit and dopaminergic learning rule can explain a big volume of classical conditioning behavioural data, give insights into how long-term memory affects the behaviour of animals, and suggests parallels in the mammalian brain.

Next, I want to investigate how our dopaminergic plasticity rule would perform in classic reinforcement learning paradigms and test the performance of the incentive circuit in insect-inspired visual navigation tasks, e.g., in natural environments with high vegetation and the absence of GPS.

About me: 

During his bachelor thesis in 2013 at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Evripidis had his first experience in machine learning and artificial intelligence, under the supervision of Dr Grigorios Tsoumakas; he explored the performance of Deep Belief Networks (DBNs) on multi-label classification problems, including medical, image, sound and text datasets. In July 2013, he achieved the 1st class honours BSc degree in the same university with a specialisation in Information Systems. In May 2014, Evripidis started working as a research assistant on human motion analysis at the Centre of Research and Technology - Hellas (CERTH) under the supervision of Dr Petros Daras, when he realised his passion for research. He was working on motion analysis of athletes performing sports, trying to use machine learning to train a coach that gives hints of how to improve their performance. Later, in September 2015, he decided to extend his knowledge of artificial intelligence by joining a homonymous master's programme at the University of Edinburgh under the UK/EU masters scholarship awarded from the same university. It was then when he met Prof. Barbara Webb, who introduced him to the multidiscipline field of bio-robotics and insect robotics. She supervised his master thesis, where he successfully tried to model the evasion behaviour of the Australian fiddler crabs using a data-driven approach and semi-supervised learning. He graduated with distinction from the School of Informatics awarding the specialisation of Machine Learning in September 2016. Right after, he started working on building a robot that imitates the olfactory learning mechanism of the Drosophila larva with professor Webb as his advisor. While in the same institute, in March 2017 he started working on designing and modelling the celestial compass neural mechanism of the desert ants, under the same advisor and in collaboration with the University of Lincoln and the University of Sheffield (Dr Michael Mangan). His passion for the function of insect brains, bio-robotics and computational modelling led him to enrol on the ECR in September 2018, when he started his PhD. He is currently fascinated by the function of the mushroom body in the insect brain, how memories are established there and its multimodal integration mechanism. Therefore, he tries to understand and model it using computational intelligence mechanisms under the supervision of Professor Webb.

Research Interests:

Probabilistic Machine Learning, Information Theory, Multimodal Integration, Computer Vision, Learning and Adaptation


2015 - 2016 ⚮ MSc in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (with Distinction), the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

2008 - 2013 ⚮ BSc (Hons) in Computer Science and Information Systems, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Working Experience:

2017 - 2018 ⚮ Research Associate, the University of Sheffield and the University of Edinburgh, UK

2016 - 2017 ⚮ Research Assistant, the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

2014 - 2015 ⚮ Research Assistant, Centre of Research and Technology - Hellas (CERTH), Greece

Oral presentations:

2021. June. How flies acquire, forget and assimilate memories: a computational perspective. In Mushroom Body Meeting. online.

2019. November. From skylight input to behavioural output: a computational model of the insect polarised light compass. In International Navigation Conference. Edinburgh, UK

2017, July. Predator Evasion by a Robocrab. In Conference on Biomimetic and Biohybrid Systems, Stanford University, CA.


Gkanias, E., McCurdy, L. Y., Nitabach, M. N., & Webb, B. 2022, March. An anatomically accurate circuit for short- and long-term motivational learning in fruit flies. In Cosyne Conference, Lisbon, Portugal.

Gkanias, E., McCurdy, L. Y., Nitabach, M. N., & Webb, B. 2021, Septebmer. The incentive circuit of the fruit fly brain: a computational perspective. In Bernstein Conference, online.

Gkanias, E., Scaria, A., Vladis, N. A., Risse, B., Mangan, M., & Webb, B. 2019, August. Robustness of a model of the insects' celestial compass in realistic conditions. In International Conference on Invertebrate Vision, Bäckaskog Slott, Sweden.

Gkanias, E., Lagogiannis, K., and Webb, B. 2018, October. Imitating the Drosophila Larval Learning Behaviour on a Robot. In Behavioral Neurogenetics of Drosophila Larva. Edinburgh, United Kingdom.

Pacella, D., Risse, B., Gkanias, E., Mangan, M., and Webb, B. 2018, July. Neural models of ant navigation in a realistic 3D world. In International Conference of Neuroethology. Brisbane, Australia.

List of publications:

Gkanias, E., McCurdy, L. Y., Nitabach, M. N., & Webb, B.. (2022). An incentive circuit for memory dynamics in the mushroom body of Drosophila melanogaster. eLife , 11, e75611.

Schwarz, S., Clement, L., Gkanias, E., & Wystrach, A. (2020). How do backward-walking ants (Cataglyphis velox) cope with navigational uncertainty?. Animal Behaviour, 164, 133-142.

Gkanias, E., Risse, B., Mangan, M. and Webb, B., 2019. From skylight input to behavioural output: a computational model of the insect polarised light compass.PLoS Comput Biol 15(7): e1007123.

Stouraitis, T., Gkanias, E., Hemmi, J.M. and Webb, B., 2017, July. Predator Evasion by a Robocrab. In Conference on Biomimetic and Biohybrid Systems (pp. 428-439). Springer, Cham.