This fall, several biologist colleagues of mine plan to build a movie theater for houseflies. In fact, it’s a miniature IMAX theater–complete with a panoramic screen–inside of which they’ll place a tiny rotating cage, a downsized version of the ones that astronauts use to simulate tumbling in space. Some time next year, they’ll strap a fly into the cage and show it a movie. A leisurely pastime for idle academics? Hardly. The common housefly is an extremely maneuverable flyer, the best of any species, insect or otherwise. What’s more, its flight control commands originate from only a few hundred neurons in its brain, far less computational might than you’d find in your toaster. My colleagues in England–Holger Krapp and Simon Laughlin at the University of Cambridge and Graham Taylor and Richard Bomphrey at the University of Oxford–and I want to know its secret. The fly-size flight simulator will reproduce the inertial effects of flight. The movie depicts panoramic scenes during flight. By inserting electrodes into the fly’s brain, the biologists will be able to observe how its neurons light up in response to these scenes. In a sense, we’ll see what the fly sees. Our goal is to understand flight… Read full this story
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