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First map of insect brain signals ‘big step forward’ in understanding thoughts

Science Mar 10, 2023 at 12:05

First map of insect brain signals 'big step forward' in understanding thoughts

Researchers have built the first ever map of an insect’s brain, showing every neuron and how they are wired together – now experts say this could bring them closer to understanding the mechanism of thought and behaviour.

A map of the 3,016 neurons that make up a baby fruit fly’s brain is the first of its kind, according to a new study.

Researchers say the map of the insect’s brain is the largest ever completed and shows every neuron – or messenger cell – in the organ and how they are wired together.

Experts say it could bring them closer to understanding the mechanism of thought and behaviour and has been described as a “big step forward”.

The project was led by Professor Marta Zlatic and Professor Albert Cardona, of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, which is based at the University of Cambridge.

“The way the brain circuit is structured influences the computations the brain can do,” said Professor Zlatic. “But, up until this point, we’ve not seen the structure of any brain except of the roundworm C. elegans, the tadpole of a low chordate, and the larva of a marine annelid, all of which have several hundred neurons.

“This means neuroscience has been mostly operating without circuit maps.

“Without knowing the structure of a brain, we’re guessing on the way computations are implemented.

“But now, we can start gaining a mechanistic understanding of how the brain works.”

The work took researchers 12 years to complete, with the imaging alone taking about a day per neuron.