Fruit Flies show decision-making capabilities, study says.
Think your average fruit fly isn’t intelligent? Think again.
Drosophila melanogaster, or the fruit fly, may have decision-making capabilities, according to research performed by neuroscientists at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour.
Fruit flies can distinguish between different sorts of odors, including sweet and bitter. Flies can be trained to either avoid one odor or be attracted to another. The researchers of this study trained the fruit flies to avoid a specific odor. The odors were then put at different positions of an experimental chamber. The flies inevitably avoided the odor they were supposed to avoid.
However, when the two odors, one positive and one negative, were placed closer together, the flies appeared to “think” before making a move. The time before giving a response to a difficult situation was longer than for easier situations. This indicates that fruit flies may have a certain level of decision-making capabilities. This is interesting considering decision-making is a hallmark trait of higher animals, a sign of intelligence and certain cortical skills.
Are flies smarter than we give them credit for being? What about other organisms, like the common earth worm or a slug?
The researchers indicated that they characterized “a decision process in Drosophila that bears the behavioral signature of evidence accumulation. As stimulus contrast in trained odor discriminations decreased, reaction times increased and perceptual accuracy declined, in quantitative agreement with a drift-diffusion model. FoxP mutants took longer than wild-type flies to form decisions of similar or reduced accuracy, especially in difficult, low-contrast tasks.”
The FoxP gene is important for brain development, especially of certain areas of the frontal cortex and the basal ganglia.
Those flies with a FoxP mutation took longer to decide, and were indecisive, indicating that FoxP is important in flies and also important in decision-making.
The lead researcher of this study, Dr. Shamik DasGupta, commented that before the brain makes a decision, the brain “circuits collect information like a bucket collects water. Once the accumulated information has risen to a certain level, the decision is triggered. When FoxP is defective, either the flow of information into the bucket is reduced to a trickle, or the bucket has sprung a leak.”
Another researcher in the study, Dr. Gero Miesenböck, further stated that FoxP is not a language gene or processing gene. Rather, FoxP is “a tool to understand the brain circuits involved in these processes.” Professor Miesenböck further indicated that “What our findings show is that fruit flies have a surprising mental capacity that has previously been unrecognised.”
We can be sure that much more research will go into this FoxP gene to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the brain’s capabilities.