Hampel et al., Nature Methods, Advance Online Publication (2011)

ScienceShot: Fly Brains Now in Technicolor

Staff Writer

Some flies' brains and eyes might be filled with psychedelic colors, but it's not from spending too much time at Burning Man. Using DNA from naturally glowing jellyfish, two independent groups of researchers have found a way to color-code the 100,000 neurons in the fruit fly's brain and eyes so that they can track what each cell does. Building on techniques first developed for mice, the researchers gave the insects genes for a red, a green, and a blue fluorescent protein. The genetic control system they devised spurs each cell to make a different amount of each of the three proteins. Like the red, blue, and green pixels on a TV screen, the combination of the three proteins causes each cell to glow a unique color. These two techniques, called Brainbow and Flybow and reported online today in Nature Methods, will allow researchers to trace how individual neurons develop and form connections with one another.

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Posted in Plants & Animals, Brain & Behavior