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Fruit flies flee from shadows

Faux predators instigate fearlike response suggestive of human emotion

12:00pm, May 14, 2015
fruit fly

BUZZ KILL  An overhead shadow can scatter fruit flies (one shown), a response that may eventually help scientists understand complex emotions in people. 

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The shadow of a predator overhead sends fruit flies into a tizzy. In response to an aerial threat, flies exhibit behaviors that echo the human state of fear, scientists report in the June 1 Current Biology.

Finding signs of a fearlike state in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster may allow scientists to better understand how the human brain creates emotions and how that process can go awry in fear and anxiety disorders.

“The Drosophila brain is so simple,” says neuroscientist Kay Tye of MIT. “If we can understand how fear and anxiety work in a Drosophila, it’s a great handle for us to understand it in more complex brains.”

In the study, scientists explored how fruit flies in a circular enclosure responded to ominous shadows passing overhead. Every so often, a mechanical paddle would swipe over the

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