Scientists Breed Numerically Literate Fruit Flies

Scientists Breed Numerically Literate Fruit Flies

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After generations of intensive training, a group of fruit flies has been taught to count.

Thanks to its blindly short lifespan, the humble fruit fly has long been a favorite test subject for scientific experiments of various stripes. Their utility lies specifically in how quickly the flies can reproduce, with little baby fruit flies reaching effective maturity only eight days after hatching. By capitalizing on this speedy cycle, an international team of scientists and researchers has been able to do something amazing: they've managed to breed fruit flies capable of counting after 40 generations of teaching.

The team, made up of researchers from the University of California and Canada's Wilfred Laurier University, taught the flies to count by putting them through frequent, 20 minute long "math lessons". The lessons were based on subjecting the flies to two, three, or four flashes of light, with a rapid shaking of the container housing the flies following either the two-flash or four-flash pattern. The first 39 generations of fruit fly, being unable to distinguish between the different flash patterns, would not prepare themselves for the shake that invariably followed these patterns. Generation 40, however, proved capable of distinguishing between the number of flashes and preparing themselves for the shaking they knew would follow two or four flashes of light.

"The obvious next step is to see how [the flies'] neuro-architecture has changed," said Tristan Long, a geneticist from Wilfrid Laurier University. Long added that the likely first step in this process will be to compare the brain structure of the numerically literate flies with that of untrained flies, in the hope that this comparison will enable the researchers to pinpoint precisely the mutation that allows the children of the trained flies to count.

Scientists hope that information gleaned from this investigation will allow them to better understand the mechanical reasons behind human problems with numeracy, including the learning disability dyscalculia.

The evolution of these mathematically-minded flies adds further weight to the theory that basic numerical skills are ancient, ingrained constructs, something that we see in various places throughout the animal kingdom (baby chicks are an especially cute example). It'll be interesting to see what exactly it was that changed in the flies, and how the mutation developed through the 40 generations of trainees; will we be able to identify similar mutations across other species? Also, let's not speculate over what they might learn next, ok? I'm still recovering from The Fly (seriously, it was horrifying).

Source: Nature via Wired

Image: Wikipedia

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So they taught flies...lasting instinct?

That's goddamn impressive.

In before fly apocalypse.

so Jerry, what are we doing FOR SCIENCE! this week? Teaching flies to count Marv, teaching flies to count.

Seems useless now but the idea is to study the concept of genetic skills which can be passed from generation to generation. Oddly I keep thinking about the Warhammer 40K Orkz who have their entire civilization ranging from technology to economy pretty much built into their genetics so they can always rebuild no matter how hard you try and kill them.

This is why I like fruit flies. Any time someone says "Evolution is just a theory" I can tell them that we've bred new species of fruit flies from existing ones. Can't get much more concrete than actual controlled evolution in the lab.

While there's no indication in the article that this particular bunch are a new species, it's still a pretty impressive accomplishment. Hope this news gets out to the general public. Probably won't, except perhaps through people who are paranoid about genetic engineering. There's no reason for them to panic yet though, it'll still be a while before they can get flies that are smarter than some humans. I give it 5 years, tops.

You fools, don't let them escape the lab. They'll teach their brethren. And in a few thousand generations they'll realize they're numerically superior. Than the brain eating begins. 0_o

Would their 88 be our 69?

I, for one, welcome our new Insect Overlords.

And so it begins.

First they learn to count, then they learn to make shivs. Next thing you know, we're all working in the fruit mines.

No, I don't know how a fruit mine would work, I'm not one of our fruity overlords.

rhizhim:
I, for one, welcome our new Insect Overlords.

Curse you ninja
*shakes fist at sky*

hmm I'm still betting on the robot overloads but flies will be a great third

Sort of makes the concept of genetic memory more Plausible.

Haha, interesting. The way they describe this, it seems to be an environmentally spurred adaptions, but GOD FORBID that is possible. It's just inconceivable that is even possible!!! NO, it has to be because number lines are as engraved into fruit flies as they are humans! That makes perfect sense!

I will both love and fear our new fly Overlords.

Just to point it out, the reason most scientists who do research on fruit flies use fruit flies has very little to do with how fast they procreate. Yes, in this case it is helpful, but most fruit fly research is actually DNA/RNA based...

You see, fruit flies have a DNA strand very similar to humans, except that humans have 2 extras for a redundant backup system, which makes it very difficult to do proper science on it. So, use fruit flies.

My girlfriend is a PhD Cell Biology grad student working on fruit flies and RNA. I'm a mechanical guy, so take what I said with a grain of "doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about", but that's basically what she told me.

EDIT: fun fact. A male fruit fly's sperm is actually longer than it's entire body...

Allthingsspectacular:
In before fly apocalypse.

Now THAT would be interesting.

Science. Is there anything it can't do?

50 years from now we'll have fly-people making nuclear bombs.

They have crossed the morphogenetic field! Now all that is left is to give them a sudoku puzzle. <--Obscure as hell reference

Now they can count how many humans they annoy! How long before they create a fruit fly version of The Count? Oh, the horror...

But humans teaching insects? That's...that's...

Flies can count? Oh...I guess that's pretty impressive.

*sips tea and continues to play chess with my cat*

Indeed.

monkeymo4d:
Sort of makes the concept of genetic memory more Plausible.

Mmm, not really. This is pretty early and the science far from solid. I wouldn't give this much thought until it comes along a great deal more.

deserteagleeye:
They have crossed the morphogenetic field! Now all that is left is to give them a sudoku puzzle. <--Obscure as hell reference

And since they can hang upside down, it will be even easier for them.

aksel:
Science. Is there anything it can't do?

It cannot stop going forward.

Clearing the Eye:

monkeymo4d:
Sort of makes the concept of genetic memory more Plausible.

Mmm, not really. This is pretty early and the science far from solid. I wouldn't give this much thought until it comes along a great deal more.

It's not so much genetic memory, as it is increasing their ability to learn. They weren't born knowing how to count, but they were able to learn when the previous generations could not.

This read 'Scientists Breed Numerically Literate Fruit' in the sidebar and I was SO excited, but no.

Buretsu:

Clearing the Eye:

monkeymo4d:
Sort of makes the concept of genetic memory more Plausible.

Mmm, not really. This is pretty early and the science far from solid. I wouldn't give this much thought until it comes along a great deal more.

It's not so much genetic memory, as it is increasing their ability to learn. They weren't born knowing how to count, but they were able to learn when the previous generations could not.

That could be the case. I'm more inclined to believe that. But this is just way too early and we know much too little to do anything beyond guess.

Sushewakka:

aksel:
Science. Is there anything it can't do?

It cannot stop going forward.

Religion begs to differ! :P

just don't start breeding sharks that can learn or we are in deep trouble

Buretsu:

Clearing the Eye:

monkeymo4d:
Sort of makes the concept of genetic memory more Plausible.

Mmm, not really. This is pretty early and the science far from solid. I wouldn't give this much thought until it comes along a great deal more.

It's not so much genetic memory, as it is increasing their ability to learn. They weren't born knowing how to count, but they were able to learn when the previous generations could not.

Yea I know most of the traits we see in modern animals are the result of natural selection and in this case they selected the fruit flies which showed the highest affinity learning this new trait and bred them together (selective breeding).
But still it would be cool though if somewhere in your genetic code lied the experience of all your ancestors including fucking dinosaurs and we found a way to unlock them.(well if the evolution theory is true then its more like dinosaur rodents)

aksel:

Allthingsspectacular:
In before fly apocalypse.

Now THAT would be interesting.

Science. Is there anything it can't do?

Manage their budget?

rancher of monsters:
First they learn to count, then they learn to make shivs. Next thing you know, we're all working in the fruit mines.

No, I don't know how a fruit mine would work, I'm not one of our fruity overlords.

"Fruity overlords" sounds like we're all going to end up working for George Takei. Which I would love.

Umm, Ima summarise this as another one of sciences excersices into: "What is the point?"

I love reading about stuff like this.
I hope they find something great in regards to understanding dyscalculia.

wait?! That's where my tuition money has been going?

My question is, why? What does teaching a fly to count do? Is this just one of those moments of scientific "because I wanna"?

Well, regardless,
-- ALL HAIL KING FLY --

 

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