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Mapping the fruit fly brain

New digital atlas demystifies complex neuron shapes and connections

WASHINGTON — A new computer-based technique is exploring uncharted territory in the fruit fly brain with cell-by-cell detail that can be built into networks for a detailed look at how neurons work together. The research may ultimately lead to a complete master plan of the entire fly brain. Mapping the estimated 100,000 neurons in a fly brain, and seeing how they interact to control behavior, will be a powerful tool for figuring out how the billions of neurons in the human brain work.

The program has already found some new features of the fruit fly brain, said study coauthor Hanchuan Peng of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Va. “We can see very beautiful and very complicated patterns,” said Peng, who presented the results April 9 at the 51st Annual Drosophila Research Conference. “If you look at neurons at a better resolution, or look at regions you’ve never looked at before, you’ll find something new.”

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