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Gigantic map of fly brain is a first for a complex animal

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2023-03-19 05:30:08

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Scientists have generated the first complete map of the brain of a small insect, including all of its neurons and connecting synapses.

The research, published on 9 March in Science1, provides a brain-wiring diagram known as the connectome of a complex animal for the first time — the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. The map shows all 3,016 neurons and 548,000 synapses tightly packed in a young Drosophila’s brain, which is smaller than a poppy seed.

The map is a milestone in understanding how the brain processes the flow of sensory information and translates it into action. “Now we have a reference brain,” says Marta Zlatic, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, UK, and co-author of the paper. “We can look at what happens to connectivity in models of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and of any degenerative disease.”

Until now, scientists had mapped the connectomes of only the worms Caenorhabditis elegans and Platynereis dumerilii, and the larva of the sea squirt Ciona intestinalis. Drosophila was an ideal model for connectome studies, because scientists have already sequenced its genome, and the larvae have transparent bodies. Fruit flies also exhibit sophisticated behaviours — including learning, navigating landscapes, processing smells and weighing the risks and benefits of an action. “Its size is manageable for current technology,” says Chung-Chuang Lo, a computational neuroscientist at the National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu, Taiwan.

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