back to article Fruit flies' brains at work: Decision-making? They use their eyes

Scientists hunting for the secret of how boffin scalpel-fodder favourite Drosophila melanogaster (aka the fruit fly) makes decisions have found that some of the brain circuitry active when it makes choices can be linked to what it has already seen. The research is being undertaken in order to some day help better understand …

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Time flies like an arrow.

Fruit flies like a banana.

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Re: Time flies like an arrow.

colourless green dreams sleep furiously?

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Re: Time flies like an arrow.

This is why I like hyphens (m-dashes, too) — «fruit-flies» is unambiguous; «fruit flies» less so.

It took me a few moments before I realised that the «flies» in «fruit flies» can be a noun as well a verb in this context.

On another note, this Mendel fellow has a lot to be thanked for.

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Re: Time flies like an arrow.

'It took me a few moments before I realised that the «flies» in «fruit flies» can be a noun as well a verb in this context.'

To be fair, fruit does fly like a banana.

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Re: Time flies like an arrow.

Don't make the mistake of thinking all fruit flies like a banana.

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Re: Time flies like an arrow.

I have an Elder tree in my back garden. Many years ago, I tried making some wine out of the berries, not too bad actually, but not worth doing again, time consuming, messy faff, and of course you can get more drinkable stuff from Lidl for under a fiver. Anyway, if fruit flies like a banana, which I doubt not, I can confirm that they fucking love sugary, fermenting liquid, and will happily commit suicide in an airlock to try to get at it in their droves. Having said that, 'Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies fucking love sugary fermenting liquid' doesn't really demonstrate the same linguistic syntactic ambiguity.

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Re: Time flies like an arrow.

Only bananas though. Apples fly remarkably unbananalike fashion.

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RJG

Re: Time flies like an arrow.

"To be fair, fruit does fly like a banana."

The real question here is do fruit stags fly in the same way?

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TRT
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Re: Time flies like an arrow.

I'm more worried about these "time flies" that you are on about. Sounds like something I saw in Dr Who once.

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Re: Time flies like an arrow.

English language is like that. "Alice made an Ikea bookcase with a screwdriver". "Bob made a coffee table with Charlie". How confusing is that to a someone learning English?

Is it just me but genetically modified flies with glowing green brains? What if they escaped and mated with the genetically modified frikkin-laser flies from someone else's research project? Remember you heard it here first - if you want the film rights we'll talk.

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Re: Time flies like an arrow.

Funny you mention that old joke. The last time I saw it, it was being used to drive AI natural language processors completely nuts. It has about 9 different parsings or something.

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Re: Time flies like an arrow.

@RTG. Bravo!

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Re: Time flies like an arrow.

"Bob made a coffee table with Charlie"

Snortable coffee tables - now that's an idea!

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Re: Time flies like an arrow.

English language is like that. "Alice made an Ikea bookcase with a screwdriver". "Bob made a coffee table with Charlie". How confusing is that to a someone learning English?

I learned English years ago but I am still confused about how Bob got the grains to stick together well enough to fashion a table

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Re: Time flies like an arrow. @ 's water music

We seem to be thinking along the same lines.

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Re: Time flies like an arrow.

"colourless green dreams sleep furiously?"

I see your grammatically-sound semantic hash and raise you an eight-word sentence where all the words are spelled the same:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_buffalo_Buffalo_buffalo_buffalo_buffalo_Buffalo_buffalo

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How?

<quote>The team collected a few hundred specially genetically modified D melanogaster fruit flies and tethered them to a plate in front of a white screen with their heads fixed, leaving their wings free.</quote>

Almost seems easier to train the things to sit still.

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WTF?

Re: How?

My thoughts too - how *exactly* do you manage to do that ? I have a hard enough time sellotaping Christmas presents closed.

These guys must have done a lot of Blue Peter projects when they were young.

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Re: How?

Easier to train them to sit still than to fly underwater I would imagine, going by this old interview from a former member of the team, Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling:

> Sir Arthur, is it difficult to get fruit flies to fly under water?

>> Well, I think the word 'difficult' is an awfully good one here. Yes... it is - er - it's well-nigh impossible. I think - er - the trouble is, you see, God, in his infinite wisdom and mercy, er - designed these creatures to fly in the air...

> Yes...

>> ...rather than through the watery substances at their feet... hence they experience enormous difficulty - as you said, difficulty, in beating their tiny wings against the water - it's a disastrous experience for them.

> Yes - um - how do you manage to breathe?

>> Through the mouth and the nose... the usual method, in fact. God gave us these orifices to breathe through, and who am I to condemn Him - I think you can't breathe through anything else - if you start breathing through your ears you can't hear yourself speak for the rushing of the wind... nose and mouth is what I use, and I trust you do.

> Yes, well I most certainly do, of course...

>> Good, good...

> ...but what I was meaning was how do you manage to breathe under water?

>> Oh, that's completely impossible - nobody can breathe under water - that's what makes it so difficult - I have to keep bobbing to the surface every thirty seconds, making it impossible to conduct a sustained training programme on the fruit flies. And they're no better, they can't even be taught to hold their proboscises. There they are sitting on me wrist, I say "Fly! Fly, you devils!", and they inhale a faceful of water, and ...

> I suppose they drown, do they?

>> ...it's curtains - yes - they drown... topple off me wrist, little black, insecty figure topples off me wrist - spirals very slowly down to a watery grave. We're knee-deep in fruit flies off that part of the coast.

>> Sir Arthur, have you ever managed to get a fruit fly to fly under water?

> No. Er - I've never managed to get one to fly under water. Not at all, not a single success in the whole forty years of training.

> Rather a miserable failure, then, your - your whole life, I suppose.

>> My life has been a miserable failure, yes...

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Re: How?

You use veeeery tiny knots made in veeeery fine rope, a bit like tethering a horse but the fence has to be quite a bit smaller.

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Re: How?

I was thinking teh exact same thing. These flies are tiny, to tether them while allowing them to fly you'd need to use thread so fine that it's a bugger to work with. Even if you knocked teh little buggers unconscious to tether them it must be a terribly painstaking task to tether one, let alone hundreds.

Also - If I understood correctly they are GM-ed so some neurons light up when activated. But surely the neurons are encased inside the brain / head. How can the boffins see the neurons lighting up?

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Angel

Re: How?

Do these fruit flies have a better fate than butterflies that are by the state of the art killed in a jar with potassiumcyanide and preserved for eternity by pushing a pin through their thorax? I hope the trained fruit flies are cared for until a ripe old age, just like chimps that were used for biological experiments.

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Re: How?

Apparently a ripe old age for fruit flies is 40-50 days.

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Re: How?

I was thinking teh exact same thing. These flies are tiny, to tether them while allowing them to fly you'd need to use thread so fine that it's a bugger to work with

I expect JR Hartley might be able to help

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Re: How?

In a word: glue. The flies are glued to tiny magnetic pins that are held in place with a magnetic field. It's a hard, but mercifully short life when you're a fruit-fly.

A Magnetic Tether System to Investigate Visual and Olfactory Mediated Flight Control in Drosophila

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How do they know that...

How do the "boffins" know that their own Frankensteinien genetic modifications to the poor innocent fruit flies aren't skewing the results?

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if i could fly

I'd consistently head toward the bar, myself

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"scalpel-fodder" ?

Do they use specially made tiny scalpels? Really, I'd like to know.

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Re: "scalpel-fodder" ?

Lasers are what we use for scalpels these days.

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TRT
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Re: "scalpel-fodder" ?

Yes. Yes they do.

Really tiny little knives on the ends of thin needles, which are themselves on the ends of micro-manipulator arms capable of movements measured in nanometers. They can slice a fruit fly up into slices less than a cell thick.

The technology was actually developed by the pre-packed delicatessen team at Tesco.

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Trollface

Re: "scalpel-fodder" ?

Yes, you need a laser to make a scalpel that tiny.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "scalpel-fodder" ?

They just get really big flies.

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Trollface

The Gates of Abbadon has opened

And .... One Day .... A Fruit Fly will be elected President of the United States based on it's superior looks and decision making skills ... Verily it will be Thus.

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Re: The Gates of Abbadon has opened

= And .... One Day .... A Fruit Fly will be elected President of the United States based on it's superior = looks and decision making skills ... Verily it will be Thus.

Too late, it already happened. Although it was its fruity-appearing looks and ability to appear crudely human rather than its decision-making skills that did it.

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Optical tracking of biochemical processes.

Reminds me a story of a dance teacher. A student had foolishly come in with a colour-changing-dye t-shirt, that was a fad at the time.

"Excellent!" said the teacher, setting them their practises. "If that thing hasn't changed colour by the time I come back, you'll keep going!"

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Happy

If Kazama and team really wish to discover how the simple mammalian brain reacts to basic stimuli, and need a captive population of low neuron-count, quick breeding organisms - that make only the simplest of decisions - they should come to Stevenage town centre any weekend. Subjects galore...

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Anonymous Coward

But can the boffins...

...come up with a remarkable new breed of super-fly that could, unaided, figure out how to fly through the open half of a half-open window?

If so, will an off-switch for children be next?!

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Re: But can the boffins...

Have one from me for the obligatory Douglas Adams reference.

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eyes as brains ...

... makes a lot of sense to me ...there's a lot of processing in visual circuitry before you see anything ... edge detection, etc. From assign evolutionary perspective perhaps ir is most likely that light sensitive cells developed from more general neurons.

The article also reminds me that I didn't really understand what impressionist art was all about until reading Proust's account of the (fictional, I think) painter Elstir ... where he presents as the attempt to capture the raw sensation of light before any such processing has occurred. Actually, there's a lot of great stuff in "In Search of Lost Time" ... if you've got a spare year, i recommend it!

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TRT
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Re: eyes as brains ...

The "lower" the organism the more feature detection is done earlier on in the visual system.

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Re: eyes as brains ...

Not sure about fruit flies, but I have a colleague who studies genetically-modified zebra fish (same technology - calcium imaging). Young zebra fish are almost completely transparent, so you can image their entire brain/neural system in one shot. It's pretty impressive watching screeds of individual neurons (~ 10,000) flickering away in real time.

Turns out that there are more neurons in the zebra fish visual system than in the rest of the brain/nervous system in its entirety. Seeing well is pretty damn important to those critters - wouldn't surprise me if fruit flies were similar in that respect (although their visual system is very different).

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Pint

Fruit Fly Drinking

I have had lots of opportunity to observe fruit fly behaviour and can proffer the following nuggets to science: their favourite drink is rosé cava, followed by any sparkling wine, followed by any wine; all of which they prefer over beer or spirits. They are also very fond of Earl Grey and Lady Grey tea bags.

While I'm on the subject I think their favourite fruit is banana, but since I don't often eat many others I can't say for sure. :)

Incidentally the ones that live near me have bright orange eyes and elongated stripey bodies like miniature wasps, and look nothing like the El Reg picture (not that El Reg ever tries to be pictorially accurate of course, just saying).

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Re: Fruit Fly Drinking

"Incidentally the ones that live near me have bright orange eyes and elongated stripey bodies like miniature wasps, and look nothing like the El Reg picture "
The Genus Drosophila contains ~1,500 species with considerable variation in appearance. The fly illustrated is D. melanogaster beloved of genetics researchers everywhere.

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Anonymous Coward

interesting... kind of like using a GPU

It's kind of like how we use GPUs for compute intensive applications ...

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