If a banana is rotting in the fruit basket of your kitchen, the chances are that a fruit fly will find it long before you do. How is the nervous system of a tiny fly capable of following the odor trail created by a banana? This question has been addressed in a new study conducted by the Sensory Systems and Behavior laboratory led by Dr. Matthieu Louis at the EMBL-CRG Systems Biology Unit of the CRG (Centre for Genomic Regulation) in Barcelona, Spain. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is an excellent model system in which to explore how complex behaviors, such as chemotaxis, are controlled by the activity of neural circuits. Although the word neuroscience may evoke the human brain to most of us, research in smaller genetic model organisms often represents the most direct entry point into the molecular and cellular basis of neural functions. The research carried out by the Louis lab is a new example of how the combination of interdisciplinary tools permits scientists to probe basic principles underlying complex biological processes. In this case, CRG scientists dive deeply into the fruit fly neural circuits, which could be the entrance to understanding more complex systems such as those in the human brain. The work was published in the June 1, 2015 issue of Current Biology. The article is titled “Role of the Subesophageal Zone in Sensorimotor Control of Orientation in Drosophila Larva.” To identify the neural circuits involved in chemotaxis, the research team decided to concentrate on the fruit fly larva, which comprises 10,000 neurons — 10 times fewer than adult flies and 10 million times fewer than humans. In demanding efforts, the team screened over 1,100 fly strains in which the function of a small subset of neurons in the brain could be genetically turned off.
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