Link #60: Humans Can Control Flies’ Minds!

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Link #60: Humans Can Control Flies’ Minds!

Fly
Fly. Photo: Alias 0591 cc2.0

Flies are reviled all over the world and most people feel compelled to swat one if it flies anywhere near their airspace. However, flies are as crucial to the natural order of things as honeybees or plants. If you read our last post, you know that even carrion flies help with pollination of plants such as Rafflesia.

This is possibly why flies interest so many scientists. For example, did you know that we now have the capability to control flies’ minds? Scientists in the US have managed to create a mind controlling device that can make flies flirt at a moment’s notice even when there is no other fly around!

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How Do You Control a Fly’s Mind?

Controlling a fly’s mind isn’t as difficult as you may think. In fact, in simple terms, all that the scientists needed to control the fly’s mind is heat!

The process is simply known as thermogenetics. In thermogenetics, you basically use heat to control specific neurons inside your target organism. When these neurons get activated, they cause the organism to display specific behaviours.

So, these scientists took a fly and put it in a box with a ball of wax. Before doing this, the scientists put a specific type of protein into the fly’s neural circuits. This protein was TRPA1 which was put inside the neural circuits of the fly because it is activated by heat.

The box was heated which activated this protein. The activation of this protein caused the fly to exhibit mating behaviours towards the ball of wax. Because heating the box took some time, the scientists then created the Fly Mind Altering Device or FlyMAD.

The FlyMAD is a combination of video cameras and lasers. The video camera tracks the fly inside the box while the laser targets the fly’s head and provides heat to activate the protein.

Even when the application of heat was removed, the fly continues trying to mate with the ball of wax for another 15 minutes. This was because the protein had already been heated and remained activated till it could cool down.

The scientists also tried to influence the fly’s movements with the same process. They put the TRPA1 protein in neurons responsible for movements. When they turned the laser on, the fly started walking backwards!


What Else Can Be Used to Control Animals’ Minds?

While the scientists used thermogenetics to control flies’ minds, there is another process that is similar to thermogenetics. This process is known as optogenetics. In thermogenetics, you use heat to activate proteins that can be activated with heat, but in optogenetics, you use light to activate proteins that can be activated with light.

A separate group of scientists tried to use light to create the same effect that heat did above. The light sensitive protein they used is called channelrhodopsin. Their discoveries, however, weren’t as successful.

They could create the same effects in flies with light but they couldn’t switch off the effects by switching off the light. They used the experiment to make flies scared of gas and the flies continued to be scared of gas even after the experiment was over!




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Sources:

http://mashable.com/2014/03/05/flirty-flies/
http://www.nature.com/news/laser-beam-makes-flies-flirt-1.14794
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0021144

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