Scientists Make Houseflies 'Fall In Love' With A Ball Of Wax Using Lasers

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By Sachin Trivedi | March 7, 2014 4:45 PM EST

Scientists at the Dickson's lab have developed a system called fly mind-altering device, allowing them to control the mating behavior of houseflies and letting a fly "fall in love" with a ball of wax. Such study was presented at the Neurobiology of Drosophila conference at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

According to Nature, the scientists were able to make a housefly "court" a ball of wax in a controlled environment in their experiment using a laser. The fly reportedly continued to court the ball of wax for about 15 minutes even after the laser was shut down.

The scientists placed the fly in a box and directed an infrared laser at the fly's head to deliver heat. A heat activating protein called TRPA 1 was added to the neural circuits of the fly, and the protein controls the mating behaviour in flies. The laser heat was used to activate the protein and make the fly "fall in love" with the ball of wax in the box.

The fly tried to mate with the ball of wax by circling and vibrating its wings, actions which were used by flies during courtship. The laser may have effected lasting changes in the fly's behavior as it continued to court the ball of wax about 15 minutes after the laser was shut off.

According to Barry Dickson, a neuroscientist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia, similar studies have been successful in mice using optogenetics, a method of triggering neurons with light. It is essential to note that mice are genetically very similar to human beings.

Scientists could embed a fiber optic cable in a mouse's brain to deliver light to the cells and activate proteins. But such procedures may not be feasible in houseflies owing to their small size. The laser use in the new technique could be more efficient in achieving this.

The study could help researchers to understand certain behaviors of flies like how flies decide where to lay eggs. Continued research could help scientists control the interaction between two flies like making the male flies to fall in love and start courting.

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