Scientists Make Fruit Flies Sing and Dance With New FlyMAD Technology

Posted on June 3, 2014

Fruit fly raising a wing from FlyMAD

Scientists have created a mind altering device that makes flies sing and dance. The researchers developed a tool called FlyMAD (Fly Mind Altering Device) which gives them thermogenetic control of flies. A male Drosophila is pictured raising a wing and "singing" after the neuronal activation of song neurons by FlyMAD.

Scientists say FlyMAD enables them to specifically control the activity of neurons in moving flies. They can target light or heat to specific body regions of flies in motion and then analyze their brain cells. Genetically modified, temperature-sensitive flies are used in the experiments. By combining methods of optogenetics and thermogenetics, the researchers are able to specifically alter neural pathways in the fruit fly brain with FlyMAD.

The researchers made flies "moonwalk" backwards using FlyMAD. A fly forced to walk backwards can be seen at the 56 second mark in the video below. The scientists also used FlyMAD to get the flies to try and mate with a ball of wax. Take a look:

The research was led by Andrew Straw of the Institute of Molecular Pathology. It is a collaboration between researchers from the Vienna University of Technology and the Janelia Farm Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The researchers say that "new insight into the function of the fly brain can also be applied to the network of cells in the mammalian brain." A research paper on the fly studies can be found here in the journal, Nature Methods.

Photo: Dan Bath, JFRC, HHMI

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