Are fruit flies smarter than we thought?
Oxford University neuroscientists have shown that fruit flies take longer to make more difficult decisions.
In experiments asking fruit flies to distinguish between ever closer concentrations of an odour, 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.
What our findings show is that fruit flies have a surprising mental capacity that has previously been unrecognised.
Professor Gero Miesenböck
The researchers observed Drosophila fruit flies make a choice between two concentrations of an odour presented to them from opposite ends of a narrow chamber, having been trained to avoid one concentration.
When the odour 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.
Fruit fly image via Shutterstock.
Read more at University of Oxford.