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"Blow Flies" -- The Discovery Files

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A Caltech biologist and his research team have identified how the antennae of fruit flies process the feeling of wind and then how the flies respond by standing completely still.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

And Now For Something Really -- "Fly."

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(SOUND EFFECT: cartoon fly buzz) What can we learn about human brain function from a fruit fly? The answer, my friend, may be blowing in the wind. At least according to researchers from Caltech. (SOUND EFFECT: blow dryer) You see a little breeze -- like the air from a blow dryer (SOUND EFFECT: fly screaming) -- will cause fruit flies to freeze in their tracks, seize up and hunker down in a protective mode until things calm down. (SOUND EFFECT: fly: "whew!")

The team, intrigued by this behavior, wanted to zero in and find out how this defense mechanism gets processed inside the fly's brain.

They found that the defensive response is detected by the same sensory organ in the antennae that picks up the sound of the mating call. So, how does the fly know whether to freeze up and wait -- or get ready for a hot date? A closer look was needed.

Through micro surgery and imaging, the researchers were able to scan tiny regions of the fly's brain. They found two separate areas for controlling the defensive response and the amorous one. Understanding these neural centers in a fly furthers our knowledge of how the human brain works -- and how we may someday be better able to target and treat specific areas of the ol' grey matter while leaving the adjacent areas untouched.

A little brain research. -- (SOUND EFFECT: cartoon fly buzz) "On the fly."

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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