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What singing fruit flies can tell us about quick decisions
Date:3/20/2014

en humans should emulate the Princeton researchers in challenging the conventional wisdom regarding how those organisms behave, Samuel said. "People previously looked at randomness in fruit fly behavior and automatically assumed intrinsic stochasticity [randomness] in circuit performance," he said.

"Murthy and her colleagues challenged that assumption and found it to be false. Now, they have carefully delineated a computation with multiple inputs that they can follow into the brain in a much more rigorous way," Samuel continued. "They know that the animal sees its neighbors, quantifies its movements, and uses that to calculate the song produced. They established that the fly's whimsical behavior is actually quite predictable when you go through the trouble of identifying all the relevant inputs."

When fruit flies court, the male chases the female as he vibrates his wings to produce roughly five-second serenades. About 20 percent of the time he spends pursuing a young female goes toward producing these vibrations, which are composed of a purr, or "pulse," and a buzzing sound known as "sine." The male switches off between the pulse and sine every several milliseconds, so that the two sounds seem almost simultaneous to the human ear.

To capture these sounds, the researchers constructed an octagonal chamber covered in copper mesh and fitted with nine high-fidelity microphones. They recorded more than 100,000 song "bouts," or the seconds-long strings of vibrations males produce whilst wooing. Murthy worked with first author and graduate student Philip Coen, postdoctoral researcher Jan Clemens and graduate student Diego Pacheco, all in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute; Andrew Weinstein, who received his bachelor's degree in molecular biology from Princeton in 2013; and Yi Deng, a former graduate student in Princeton's physics department and now at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

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Contact: Morgan Kelly
mgnkelly@princeton.edu
609-258-5729
Princeton University
Source:Eurekalert  

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