Talk: A new dimension in Drosophila neurobiology and behavior: altitude

Date and Time April 23, 2010, 9 p.m.
LocationSingleton Auditorium, MIT Room 46-3002

Andrew Straw, Senior Postdoctoral Scholar
California Institute of Technology, Bioengineering

Abstract: Flight is a particularly challenging form of locomotion, because a flying animal must control its motion in three dimensions. Extensive work on insects, the first animals to evolve active flight, has revealed several visually-mediated reflexes that control horizontal course, but little is known of the sensory signals used to regulate altitude. Using a 3D virtual reality environment in which we could automatically track flies and present them with arbitrary visual patterns, we found that animals use three reflexes – edge tracking, wide-field stabilization, and expansion avoidance – to control altitude. They do not regulate altitude using visual motion beneath them, as suggested by one recent theory. The results identify a remarkable correspondence between the sensory-motor algorithms used to regulate motion in the horizontal and vertical domains. Future work will use genetic mosaic techniques to identify the cells involved in this algorithmic correspondence.

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