Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Fruit flies show mark of intelligence in thinking before they act, study suggests

Date:
May 22, 2014
Source:
University of Oxford
Summary:
Fruit flies 'think' before they act, a study suggests. Neuroscientists showed that fruit flies take longer to make more difficult decisions. In experiments asking fruit flies to distinguish between ever closer concentrations of an odor, the researchers found that the flies don't act instinctively or impulsively. Instead they appear to accumulate information before committing to a choice.

Fruit flies show a mark of intelligence in 'thinking' before they act, suggests a study by researchers from the University of Oxford's Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Oxford

Fruit flies 'think' before they act, a study by researchers from the University of Oxford's Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour suggests. The neuroscientists showed that fruit flies take longer to make more difficult decisions.

Related Articles


In experiments asking fruit flies to distinguish between ever closer concentrations of an odor, the researchers found that the flies don't act instinctively or impulsively. Instead they appear to accumulate information before committing to a choice.

Gathering information before making a decision has been considered a sign of higher intelligence, like that shown by primates and humans.

'Freedom of action from automatic impulses is considered a hallmark of cognition or intelligence,' says Professor Gero Miesenböck, in whose laboratory the new research was performed. 'What our findings show is that fruit flies have a surprising mental capacity that has previously been unrecognised.'

The researchers also showed that the gene FoxP, active in a small set of around 200 neurons, is involved in the decision-making process in the fruit fly brain.

The team reports its findings in the journal Science. The group was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the US National Institutes of Health and the Oxford Martin School.

The researchers observed Drosophila fruit flies make a choice between two concentrations of an odor presented to them from opposite ends of a narrow chamber, having been trained to avoid one concentration.

When the odor concentrations were very different and easy to tell apart, the flies made quick decisions and almost always moved to the correct end of the chamber.

When the odor concentrations were very close and difficult to distinguish, the flies took much longer to make a decision, and they made more mistakes.

The researchers found that mathematical models developed to describe the mechanisms of decision making in humans and primates also matched the behaviour of the fruit flies.

The scientists discovered that fruit flies with mutations in a gene called FoxP took longer than normal flies to make decisions when odors were difficult to distinguish -- they became indecisive.

The researchers tracked down the activity of the FoxP gene to a small cluster of around 200 neurons out of the 200,000 neurons in the brain of a fruit fly. This implicates these neurons in the evidence-accumulation process the flies use before committing to a decision.

Dr Shamik DasGupta, the lead author of the study, explains: 'Before a decision is made, brain circuits collect information like a bucket collects water. Once the accumulated information has risen to a certain level, the decision is triggered. When FoxP is defective, either the flow of information into the bucket is reduced to a trickle, or the bucket has sprung a leak.'

Fruit flies have one FoxP gene, while humans have four related FoxP genes. Human FoxP1 and FoxP2 have previously been associated with language and cognitive development. The genes have also been linked to the ability to learn fine movement sequences, such as playing the piano.

'We don't know why this gene pops up in such diverse mental processes as language, decision-making and motor learning,' says Professor Miesenböck. However, he speculates: 'One feature common to all of these processes is that they unfold over time. FoxP may be important for wiring the capacity to produce and process temporal sequences in the brain.'

Professor Miesenböck adds: 'FoxP is not a "language gene," a "decision-making gene," even a "temporal-processing" or "intelligence gene." Any such description would in all likelihood be wrong. What FoxP does give us is a tool to understand the brain circuits involved in these processes. It has already led us to a site in the brain that is important in decision-making.'


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Oxford. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Shamik Dasgupta, Clara Howcroft Ferreira, and Gero Miesenböck. FoxP influences the speed and accuracy of a perceptual decision in Drosophila. Science, May 2014 DOI: 10.1126/science.1252114

Cite This Page:

University of Oxford. "Fruit flies show mark of intelligence in thinking before they act, study suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140522141426.htm>.
University of Oxford. (2014, May 22). Fruit flies show mark of intelligence in thinking before they act, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140522141426.htm
University of Oxford. "Fruit flies show mark of intelligence in thinking before they act, study suggests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140522141426.htm (accessed December 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, December 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Christmas Kissing Good for Health

Christmas Kissing Good for Health

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 22, 2014) — Scientists in Amsterdam say couples transfer tens of millions of microbes when they kiss, encouraging healthy exposure to bacteria. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Brain-Dwelling Tapeworm Reveals Genetic Secrets

Brain-Dwelling Tapeworm Reveals Genetic Secrets

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 22, 2014) — Cambridge scientists have unravelled the genetic code of a rare tapeworm that lived inside a patient's brain for at least four year. Researchers hope it will present new opportunities to diagnose and treat this invasive parasite. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Earthworms Provide Cancer-Fighting Bacteria

Earthworms Provide Cancer-Fighting Bacteria

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 21, 2014) — Polish scientists isolate bacteria from earthworm intestines which they say may be used in antibiotics and cancer treatments. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Existing Chemical Compounds Could Revive Failing Antibiotics, Says Danish Scientist

Existing Chemical Compounds Could Revive Failing Antibiotics, Says Danish Scientist

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 21, 2014) — A team of scientists led by Danish chemist Jorn Christensen says they have isolated two chemical compounds within an existing antipsychotic medication that could be used to help a range of failing antibiotics work against killer bacterial infections, such as Tuberculosis. Jim Drury went to meet him. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins