Nav: Home

Artificial intelligence helps build brain atlas of fly behavior

July 13, 2017

A smart computer program named JAABA has helped scientists create a brain-wide atlas of fruit fly behavior.

The machine-learning program tracked the position and cataloged the behaviors of 400,000 fruit flies, in more than 225 days of video footage, helping researchers match specific behaviors to different groups of neurons.

"We wanted to understand what neurons are doing at the cellular level," says Janelia Group Leader Kristin Branson. She and colleagues reported the work July 13 in the journal Cell.

Their results are the most comprehensive neural maps of behavior yet created. Such detailed maps could give researchers a starting point for tracing the neural circuitry flies use to produce specific behaviors, such as jumping or wing grooming, Branson says. Understanding the inner workings of the fly brain could even offer insight into the neural basis of human behavior, she says.

Though the brain of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, is only about the size of a poppy seed, it comprises roughly 100,000 neurons which interact in complex circuits to control an extensive array of behaviors.

"Flies do all the things that an organism needs to do in the world," says study coauthor Alice Robie, a research scientist at Janelia. "They have to find food, they have to escape from predators, they have to find a mate, they have to reproduce." All those actions, she says, involve different behaviors for interacting with the environment.

Scientists have identified some of the neurons at work in courtship, say, or chasing, but no one has tackled the entire brain all at once. Branson's team took a brain-wide approach for finding neurons involved in a suite of 14 behaviors, including wing flicking, crab walking, and attempted copulation.

The team studied 2,204 populations of flies, part of a collection developed at Janelia called the GAL4 Fly Lines. The flies are genetically engineered to crank up the activity of certain neurons. Previous imaging work, Janelia's FlyLight Project, identified where in the brain these neurons resided - so researchers already had an anatomical map of the neurons targeted in each group of flies. But researchers didn't know what role these neurons played in behavior.

Dialing up the neurons' activity in one type of flies, for example, made them huddle together when placed in a shallow dish, says lab technician Jonathan Hirokawa, now a mechatronics engineer at Rockefeller University in New York City. Other types of flies acted even more bizarrely, he recalls. "Sometimes you'd get flies that would all turn in circles, or all follow one another like they were in a conga line."

From these behavioral quirks, researchers could piece together the cell types involved in walking or backing up, for example. The researchers tackled the problem in an automated fashion, Robie says. Using videos of flies, Robie taught the machine-vision and -learning program JAABA, Janelia Automatic Animal Behavior Annotator, how to recognize specific behaviors. Then Branson's team put JAABA to work watching and labeling behaviors in videos of the 2,204 different fly groups - a feat that would have taken humans some 3,800 years.

In addition to matching cell types to behaviors, the researchers identified something entirely new: the nerve cells linked to female chase behavior. "There have been some reports of female aggression, but not females chasing other flies," Robie says.

That finding stands out, Branson says, but it's just one of thousands of results yielded by their study. "With these big datasets, we've been trying to figure out how you actually share the information," she says. Their solution is a program called BABAM, or the Browsable Atlas of Behavior Anatomy Maps. With BABAM, scientists can explore the new data, create maps that link behavior to fly brain anatomy, and search for fly groups associated with certain behaviors.

Branson and Robie say the new results highlight the advantages of blending different scientific disciplines at Janelia. "This is what happens when you put biologists and computer scientists together," Robie says.
-end-


Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Related Neurons Articles:

The first 3D map of the heart's neurons
An interdisciplinary research team establishes a new technological pipeline to build a 3D map of the neurons in the heart, revealing foundational insight into their role in heart attacks and other cardiac conditions.
Mapping the neurons of the rat heart in 3D
A team of researchers has developed a virtual 3D heart, digitally showcasing the heart's unique network of neurons for the first time.
How to put neurons into cages
Football-shaped microscale cages have been created using special laser technologies.
A molecule that directs neurons
A research team coordinated by the University of Trento studied a mass of brain cells, the habenula, linked to disorders like autism, schizophrenia and depression.
Shaping the social networks of neurons
Identification of a protein complex that attracts or repels nerve cells during development.
With these neurons, extinguishing fear is its own reward
The same neurons responsible for encoding reward also form new memories to suppress fearful ones, according to new research by scientists at The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT.
How do we get so many different types of neurons in our brain?
SMU (Southern Methodist University) researchers have discovered another layer of complexity in gene expression, which could help explain how we're able to have so many billions of neurons in our brain.
These neurons affect how much you do, or don't, want to eat
University of Arizona researchers have identified a network of neurons that coordinate with other brain regions to influence eating behaviors.
Mood neurons mature during adolescence
Researchers have discovered a mysterious group of neurons in the amygdala -- a key center for emotional processing in the brain -- that stay in an immature, prenatal developmental state throughout childhood.
Connecting neurons in the brain
Leuven researchers uncover new mechanisms of brain development that determine when, where and how strongly distinct brain cells interconnect.
More Neurons News and Neurons Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Processing The Pandemic
Between the pandemic and America's reckoning with racism and police brutality, many of us are anxious, angry, and depressed. This hour, TED Fellow and writer Laurel Braitman helps us process it all.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#568 Poker Face Psychology
Anyone who's seen pop culture depictions of poker might think statistics and math is the only way to get ahead. But no, there's psychology too. Author Maria Konnikova took her Ph.D. in psychology to the poker table, and turned out to be good. So good, she went pro in poker, and learned all about her own biases on the way. We're talking about her new book "The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Invisible Allies
As scientists have been scrambling to find new and better ways to treat covid-19, they've come across some unexpected allies. Invisible and primordial, these protectors have been with us all along. And they just might help us to better weather this viral storm. To kick things off, we travel through time from a homeless shelter to a military hospital, pondering the pandemic-fighting power of the sun. And then, we dive deep into the periodic table to look at how a simple element might actually be a microbe's biggest foe. This episode was reported by Simon Adler and Molly Webster, and produced by Annie McEwen and Pat Walters. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.