Researchers understand the structure of brains and have mapped it in some detail, but they still don’t know exactly how they process the data — for that, a detailed “circle map” of the brain is needed.
Now, scientists have created such a map of the most advanced creature yet: the fruit fly larva. It’s called a neural network, and it charts an insect’s 3,016 neurons and 548,000 synapses, Neuroscience News It has been reported. The map will help study researchers better understand how the brains of both insects and animals control behavior, learning, body functions, and more. The work may inspire improved AI networks.
“Up until this point, we had not seen the structure of any brain except the roundworm C. elegans, the tadpole of low chordates, and the larva of a marine annelid, all containing several hundred neurons,” said the professor. Marta Zlatek of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. “This means that neuroscience has been working mostly without circuit maps. Without knowing the structure of the brain, we guess at the way computations are carried out. But now, we can start to gain a mechanistic understanding of how the brain works.”
To build the map, the team scanned thousands of slices of the caterpillar’s brain using an electron microscope, then combined them into a detailed map, annotating all neural connections. From there, they used computational tools to identify potential information flow paths and types of “circuit shapes” in the insect’s brain. They even note that some structural features are very similar to modern deep learning architecture.
Scientists have created detailed maps of the brain of a fruit fly, which is much more complex than a fruit fly larva. However, these maps do not include all of the detailed connections required to obtain a true circuit map of their brains.
As a next step, the team will investigate the structures used for behavioral functions such as learning and decision-making, examining network activity while the insect performs specific activities. And while the fruit fly larva is a simple insect, the researchers expect to see similar patterns in other animals. “In the same way that genes are preserved across the animal kingdom, I believe the basic motifs of the circuits that carry out these basic behaviors will also be preserved,” Zlatek said.
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