“If you go out in a field, lie on your back and look up at the sky, that’s pretty much what an insect sees,” said Michael Dickinson, a University of Washington biology professor. “Insects have been looking up at this view forever.”
Dickinson is the senior author of a paper providing details on the findings, published Jan. 10 in the journal Current Biology. The lead author is Peter Weir, a doctoral student at the California Institute of Technology.
The researchers noted that insects such as monarch butterflies and locusts maintain a constant heading while migrating thousands of miles across continents, while bees and ants hunting for food successfully find their way hundreds of feet back to the nest without a problem. That has led scientists to believe that the animals must possess a compass of sorts.
To assess how insects orient themselves, Weir and Dickinson examined the behavior of Drosophila melanogaster, a species commonly referred to as a fruit fly, in outdoor lighting conditions in a specially designed “arena” atop a building tall enough to be higher than treetops and other visual landmarks.
The researchers used a light-cured glue to attach the insects to a metal pin, which was then placed within a magnetic field that allowed the flies to move and rotate naturally but held them in place. Digital cameras tracked flight headings.
During the hour before and the hour after sunset, the headings of flies relative to the position of the arena were recorded for 12 minutes. The arena was rotated 90 degrees every three minutes, and when natural light was not altered by optical filters some of the flies compensated for the rotations and maintained a consistent heading.
When the arena was covered with a circularly polarizing filter, eliminating natural linear polarization light patterns, the flies did not shift their heading significantly in response to arena rotations.
The results indicate Drosophila has the ability to coordinate eye and brain functions for rudimentary navigation using light polarization patterns, the researchers concluded. The flies are able to hold a straighter course under normal polarization patterns than they can when those patterns are shifted.
The next step in the research is to try to determine why the flies select a particular heading.
“It’s been very hard to study these processes because animals such as butterflies and locusts used in previous studies are not standard lab models,” Dickinson said. “We know something about the processes, but not that much.”
Demonstrating that fruit flies can navigate using cues from natural skylight makes it easier to use genetics research to better understand the complex capability and exactly how it is implemented in the brain.
For millennia, seafarers have depended on the sun to know their position in the world, but often the sun is not visible. Polarization vision solves that problem, Dickinson said, because if there’s even a small patch of clear sky in a fruit fly’s very broad range of view then the natural light patterns can provide location information.
He noted that fruit flies “achieve remarkable functionality” with limited resources in their brains. There are 300,000 neurons in a fruit fly’s brain, and it would take 300,000 fruit flies to reach the equivalent number of neurons in the human brain.
“A lot of our research is focusing on how the fruit fly brain is multitasking in space and time to achieve remarkable effects,” Dickinson said.
The research is funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
For more information, contact Dickinson at 206-221-1928, 206-221-8087 (lab) or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Weir at email@example.com.
High-resolution images are available.
The paper is available at http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(11)01305-4.Video: http://youtu.be/f1zP6cmiC6Y
Vince Stricherz | Newswise Science News
Superresolution live-cell imaging provides unexpected insights into the dynamic structure of mitochondria
18.02.2020 | Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
Blood and sweat: Wearable medical sensors will get major sensitivity boost
18.02.2020 | Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology
Most natural and artificial surfaces are rough: metals and even glasses that appear smooth to the naked eye can look like jagged mountain ranges under the microscope. There is currently no uniform theory about the origin of this roughness despite it being observed on all scales, from the atomic to the tectonic. Scientists suspect that the rough surface is formed by irreversible plastic deformation that occurs in many processes of mechanical machining of components such as milling.
Prof. Dr. Lars Pastewka from the Simulation group at the Department of Microsystems Engineering at the University of Freiburg and his team have simulated such...
Investigation of the temperature dependence of the skyrmion Hall effect reveals further insights into possible new data storage devices
The joint research project of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that had previously demonstrated...
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, recently completed a 5-year research project looking at how to make fibre optic communications systems more energy efficient. Among their proposals are smart, error-correcting data chip circuits, which they refined to be 10 times less energy consumptive. The project has yielded several scientific articles, in publications including Nature Communications.
Streaming films and music, scrolling through social media, and using cloud-based storage services are everyday activities now.
After helping develop a new approach for organic synthesis -- carbon-hydrogen functionalization -- scientists at Emory University are now showing how this approach may apply to drug discovery. Nature Catalysis published their most recent work -- a streamlined process for making a three-dimensional scaffold of keen interest to the pharmaceutical industry.
"Our tools open up whole new chemical space for potential drug targets," says Huw Davies, Emory professor of organic chemistry and senior author of the paper.
Superconductivity approaching room temperature may be possible in hydrogen-rich compounds at much lower pressures than previously expected
Reaching room-temperature superconductivity is one of the biggest dreams in physics. Its discovery would bring a technological revolution by providing...
12.02.2020 | Event News
16.01.2020 | Event News
15.01.2020 | Event News
18.02.2020 | Power and Electrical Engineering
18.02.2020 | Information Technology
18.02.2020 | Physics and Astronomy