How complex could a fruit fly’s brain be? Scientists from the University of Cambridge and Johns Hopkins University give number of neurons a baby fruit fly has: it’s 3,016. However, there are more than half a million connections between them.
Their study, which took 12 years to complete, managed to completely map out the brain of a fruit fly larva and their work seems to have been sisyphean.
“It’s been 50 years and this is the first brain connectome. It’s a flag in the sand that we can do this,” said senior author Joshua T. Vogelstein, a Johns Hopkins biomedical engineer.
“The first attempt at mapping a brain—a 14-year study of the roundworm begun in the 1970s, resulted in a partial map and a Nobel Prize. Since then, partial connectomes have been mapped in many systems, including flies, mice, and even humans, but these reconstructions typically only represent only a tiny fraction of the total brain,” the press release explains.
From a Popular Mechanics report:
“And there are a lot of neurons and connections to sort through. To complete this neurological map, scientists had to identify 3,016 neurons. But that pales in comparison to the number of connections between these neurons, which comes to a grand total of 548,000. They also identified 93 distinct neurons that differed in shape, function, and neurological connection. If this all sounds difficult, that’s because it is. For 12 years, scientists had to painstakingly slice a brain into thousands of tissue samples, image them with an high-resolution electron microscope, and then piece them back together — neuron by neuron.”
Why does a fruit fly? No, it’s not the apparent simplicity of the animal , even though the fruit fly, Drosophila Melanogaster, is just 1 or 2 mms long.
However, the insect, which only lives for two months tops, shares a lot with us.
Popular Mechanics explains that “scientists didn’t choose this particular species based on its size or perceived simplicity — rather, fruit flies actually share fundamental biology and a comparable genetic foundation with humans.”
You can find the research here.
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