3D image reveals hidden neurons in fruit-fly brain

By Jeremy Rehm

Scientists have produced a 3D image of a fruit fly’s brain that’s so detailed, researchers can trace connections between neurons across the entire organ.

Fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) display a suite of complex behaviours, including courtship dances and learning1. But understanding the neural networks that drive these behaviours remains a challenge. The data from this image, published on 19 July in Cell2, resolved the insect’s brain down to individual cells — revealing some neurons that have never been seen before. This offers scientists a new tool with which to study fruit-fly behaviour and allows them to compare the insects’ neural networks with that of other species.

Researchers cut a fly’s brain — roughly the size of a poppy seed — into more than 7,000 slices and shot a beam of electrons through the sample. A high-speed camera captured high-resolution pictures of each slice — a process never used before — generating roughly 21 million images that the team stitched together using custom computer software.

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