Artificial intelligence helps scientists map behavior in the fruit fly brain

As reported in Sciencemag.org the fields of artificial intelligence and optogenetics are helping scientists to map the brain of a fruit fly (drosophila melanogaster). The research is being conducted at the Janelia Research Campus is part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn , Virginia , USA .The website states that Janelia’s philosophy is ‘bold, risky science is encouraged?’ .

Fruit flies are known as Model organisms and particularly useful in genetic studies as they have a very short life span , this enables a multi-generation study in a relatively short time span , known as epigenetics . Fruit flies also share a large portion of their D.N.A with humans , the D.N.A match between humans & the fruit fly is thought to be around 60% , with much of the match being homeotic or ‘master’ gene types . This makes the fruit fly a good candidate for genetic studies which can be applied to us humans , so good in fact that the fruit fly has been rocketed to the International Space Station on NASA sponsored experiments .

fruit-fly-nasa

“Lord of the Flies”

The research is focused on mapping the fruit fly brain & nervous system and the corresponding links to various behavioural patterns . This includes all of the usual bahaviour traits seen in the life of typical fruit fly such as walking , sex , feeding , flying & escaping predators , plus many more individual neuronal responses that indicate less overt characteristics . Around 20,000 videos have so far been uploaded by the research team , each one relating to a separate fruit fly movement or response .

fruitfly-brain-map

Fruit Fly movement & Brain Response Patterns

CaMPARI

CaMPARI (Calcium Modulated Photoactivatable Ratiometric Integrator) is the system being used to actually map the neuronal activity of the fly . The system involves modifying the brain cells of a fruit fly so that they fluoresce when exposed to ‘light’ , the ‘light’ could in theory be any electro-magnetic wavelength that excites the modified brain cells but is usually infrared light or similar . The genetically modified protein is first bonded to a calcium sensor gene , this is then encoded in the fruit flies own D.N.A , the modified D.N.A is reproduced in the fruit flies brain & passed on to any offspring .

Like most animal species each and every action or reaction of the fruit fly will produce a neuronal response , the neuronal pattern will be unique to each specific action . One of the first steps in brain body communication involves calcium signaling , a specific set of neurons are ‘flooded’ with calcium ions when invoked , this signal passes to other adjacent cells as part of the whole electrochemical brain response . The newly introduced modified gene will fluoresce as the calcium floods into the brain cell , thus creating a pattern of brain cell activity that corresponds to the particular action of the fruit fly . In the case of the fruit fly the cell fluorescence is this study is permanent , allowing the researchers time to study the brain pattern , in other experiments involving a similar process the fluorescence soon dampens .

campari-drink

Campari – Normal (left) & IR Lasered (right)

The research team uses what they have termed genetically encoded calcium indicators (GECI’s) , basically a derivative of a green fluorescent protein . Green fluorescent proteins are found in many species of sea life but the the original GFP was was first extracted from a jellyfish , this original protein has since been further modified into several variants . Other fluorescent proteins are found in bacteria , specifically the small ultra red fluorescent protein (smURFP) which was cultivated from Cyanobacteria . Variants of the smURFP protein have been evolved which can covalently bond to biliverdin which is formed in the human body when red blood cells break down .

smurfs-gm

Genetically modified Smurfs

Artificial Intelligence

The team used an open source computer program called JAABA – Janelia Automatic Animal Behavior Annotator . The program was used to film the movements of the fly & mark out the corresponding brain patterns . In this instance the program carried out tasks what would have taken a human years . Theoretically the information gleaned from JAABA could be reverse engineered to actually form a working virtual image of the brain of a fruit fly , such a system could further be ‘trained’ to control a fruit fly also by reversing the measurement system which is termed Adaptive Optics . Instead of measuring the brain response , the exact same signals could be ‘beamed’ at a fruit fly to provoke a neural response , a response that could for example make the fly move backwards .

Of course , this is just theoretical , besides which there is no real motive to control a group of humble fruit flies , is there ?

hal-fly

Fruit Fly population control


Related :

fruit-fly-map-2

  1. Artificial Intelligence Helps Build Brain Atlas of Fly Behavior
  2. CaMPARI
  3. Adaptive Optics
  4. GAL4 Fly Lines

Also related :

frog-dna

  1. Green fluorescent protein
  2. SmURFP
  3. smURFP expressed in vivo and smURFP fusions in mammalian cells
  4. Ultrasensitive Calcium Sensors Shine New Light on Neuron Activity
  5. Fluorescent protein-based calcium integrators (patent)
  6. Calcium Indicators Based on Calmodulin–Fluorescent Protein Fusions
  7. Genetically-Encoded Calcium Indicators
  8. Measurement of Intracellular Calcium
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