Researchers at the California Institute of Technology recently conducted a study looking into the brain activity of fruit flies when in flight. In this image, a fruit fly is placed in a state of tethered flight, induced by a slight puff of air while the fly was suspended. With wings flapping, a pink dye-filled glass electrode is inserted into the fly’s brain to measure brain cell activity.
“Prior work on fruit flies has led to many important breakthroughs in biology. For example, the fact that genes reside on chromosomes and our understanding of how genes control development both emerged from experiments on fruit flies,” said Gaby Maimon, a postdoctoral scholar contributing to the experiment. “New research hopes to use these tiny insects to help determine how neurons give rise to complex behavior.”
As the fruit flies begin to take flight, the experiments revealed that the visual cells immediately increased their activity. “The neurons’ responses to visual motion roughly double when the flies begin to fly, which suggests that the system is more sensitive during flight,” said Michael Dickinson, professor of bioengineering. “The increase is very abrupt. It’s not at all a subtle change, and so we suspect that there is a neurochemical quickly released during flight that sets the animal’s brain in this different state.”