Navigation Links
Brain may 'see' more than the eyes, study indicates

Vision may be less important to "seeing" than is the brain's ability to process points of light into complex images, according to a new study of the fruit fly visual system currently published in the online journal Nature Communications.

University of Virginia researchers have found that the very simple eyes of fruit fly larvae, with only 24 total photoreceptors (the human eye contains more than 125 million), provide just enough light or visual input to allow the animal's relatively large brain to assemble that input into images.

"It blows open how we think about vision," said Barry Condron, a neurobiologist in U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences, who oversaw the study. "This tells us that visual input may not be as important to sight as the brain working behind it. In this case, the brain apparently is able to compensate for the minimal visual input."

Condron's graduate students, Elizabeth Daubert, Nick Macedonia and Catherine Hamilton, conducted a series of experiments to test the vision of fruit fly larvae after they noticed an interesting behavior of the animals during a different study of the nervous system. They found that when a larva was tethered to the bottom of a petri dish, other larvae were attracted to it as it wiggled attempting to free itself.

The animals apparently saw the writhing motion and were attracted to it, willingly traveling toward it. After several further experiments to understand how they sensed the motion, the researchers learned that the nearly blind animals likely were seeing the action, by wagging their heads side-to-side in a scanning motion to detect it, rather than by only hearing it or feeling vibration or by smelling the trapped larva. This was a surprise because of the very simple and limited vision of fruit fly larvae.

"The answer must be in the large, somewhat sophisticated brain of these animals," Condron said. "They are able to take just a couple dozen points of light and then process that into recognizable images; something like when an astronomer with a small telescope is able to use techniques to refine a limited image into useful information about a star."

Condron believes the animals are able to assemble useful images by rapidly scanning their heads and, in so doing, gather up enough light points to allow the brain to compose a panoramic image clear enough to "see."

The researchers tested this by presenting larva with a video of a writhing larva (therefore no vibration, no sound and no smell) and found that the larvae still detected and sought out the struggling larva on the video. They also learned that if they slowed down or sped up the video, the larvae were less attracted or not attracted at all to the video larva. They also were not attracted to dead real larva, or to tethered larva of another species, and they also had difficulty finding tethered larva in near darkness.

"Apparently they are to a very high degree visually sensitive to detail and rate of motion and can recognize their own species in this way," Condron said.

"This provides us with a good model for trying to understand the role that the brain plays in helping organisms, including humans, to process images, such as recognizing faces."

He noted that the head scanning apparently plays an important role in helping the larvae to bring together multiple visual inputs into a unified whole for the brain to process, similar to collecting together multiple pixels to form a picture. Condron said people with severe vision loss also tend to use head scanning as a means for collecting a "picture" from very dim light sources. Likewise, visually impaired people who have received experimental retinal implants of just a small number of pixels also often scan their heads to take in enough light to form mental images.

"It's easy for lab biologists to view fruit flies as simple animals that just feed and reproduce, but we are beginning to realize that that may be in contradiction to the big brain," Condron said. "There's more to what they are able to do than previously thought, whether using that brain for behaviors or for constructing images from a limited visual system."

He said the fruit fly serves as an excellent model for studying neurons because the animal has only about 20,000 of them, whereas humans have about 100 billion. Yet there are many similarities to how fruit fly and human neurons work. According to Condron, researchers are within a year of mapping the entire nervous system of the fruit fly, which then will pave the way for greater understanding of how neurons work in a range of organisms, including humans.


Contact: Fariss Samarrai
University of Virginia

Related biology news :

1. Primates brains make visual maps using triangular grids
2. Moderate drinking decreases number of new brain cells
3. Preemies brains reap long-term benefits from Kangaroo Mother Care
4. Fighting melanomas attraction to the brain
5. Sandia shows monitoring brain activity during study can help predict test performance
6. Brain training may lessen cognitive impairments associated with coronary bypass surgery
7. Scientists discover how the brain ages
8. Storm of awakened transposons may cause brain-cell pathologies in ALS, other illnesses
9. A brain filter for clear information transmission
10. EU FET program funds research on 3D neuronal structures mimicking human brain tissue
11. Brainy beverage: Study reveals how green tea boosts brain cell production to aid memory
Post Your Comments:
(Date:3/31/2016)... BOCA RATON, Florida , March 31, 2016 /PRNewswire/ ... LEGX ) ("LegacyXChange" or the "Company") ... presentation for potential users of its soon to be ... The video ( ) will also ... by the use of DNA technology to an industry ...
(Date:3/23/2016)... March 23, 2016 ... Sicherheit Gesichts- und Stimmerkennung mit Passwörtern ... (NASDAQ: MESG ), ein führender Anbieter ... Unternehmen mit SpeechPro zusammenarbeitet, um erstmals dessen ... wird die Möglichkeit angeboten, im Rahmen mobiler ...
(Date:3/21/2016)... Unique technology combines v ... security   Xura, Inc. ... digital communications services, today announced it is working alongside ... customers, particularly those in the Financial Services Sector, the ... within a mobile app, alongside, and in combination with, ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/24/2016)...  Regular discussions on a range of subjects including policies, ... entities said Poloz. Speaking at a lecture to ... he pointed to the country,s inflation target, which is set ... "In certain areas there needs ... economic goals, why not sit down and address strategy together?" ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... , ... June 24, 2016 , ... While the majority ... as the Cary 5000 and the 6000i models are higher end machines that use ... height of the spectrophotometer’s light beam from the bottom of the cuvette holder. ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... Seattle, WA (PRWEB) , ... June 23, 2016 ... ... technology, announces the release of its second eBook, “Clinical Trials Patient Recruitment and ... patient recruitment and retention in this eBook by providing practical tips, tools, and ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... , June 23, 2016   Boston ... of novel compounds designed to target cancer stemness ... has been granted Orphan Drug Designation from the ... treatment of gastric cancer, including gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) ... inhibitor designed to inhibit cancer stemness pathways by ...
Breaking Biology Technology: