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Cells with double vision
Date:2/17/2009

This release is available in German.

In comparison to many other living creatures, flies tend to be small and their brains, despite their complexity, are quite manageable. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried have now ascertained that these insects can make up for their low number of nerve cells by means of sophisticated network interactions. The neurobiologists examined nerve cells that receive motion information in their input region from only a narrow area of the fly's field of vision. Yet, thanks to their linking with neighbouring cells, the cells respond in their output regions to movements from a much wider field of vision. This results in a robust processing of information. Nature Neuroscience, February 8, 2009.

The complexity of the human brain is remarkable: It contains billions of nerve cells, each of which is connected with its neighbours via many thousands of contacts. The result is a multifaceted network which stores and processes many types of information. In comparison, the brain of a fly seems fairly simple with its 250 000 nerve cells. For example, a small network of only 60 nerve cells in each cerebral hemisphere suffices the blowfly to integrate visual motion information. The resulting information is then used in the control and correction of the fly's flight manoeuvres. However, flies clearly demonstrate just how efficient these 60 cells actually are when they dodge obstacles while flying at high speed and land upside-down on the ceiling. No wonder neurobiologists find the brain of the fly so fascinating!

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Thanks to the comparatively small number of nerve cells in the fly's visual flight control centre, the connections and functions of the cells involved can be examined in greater detail. It soon became apparent that the 60 nerve cells are furthe
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Contact: Dr. Stefanie Merker
merker@neuro.mpg.de
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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