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This colorful web is the most complete look yet at a fruit fly’s brain cells

Scientists compiled 21 million images of the noggin of Drosophila melanogaster

BRAINBOW Scientists have imaged the fruit fly brain in new detail. Colors highlight the paths of nerve cells that have been mapped so far. Cells with bodies close together share the same color, but not necessarily the same function.


If the secret to getting the perfect photo is taking a lot of shots, then one lucky fruit fly is the subject of a masterpiece.

Using high-speed electron microscopy, scientists took 21 million nanoscale-resolution images of the brain of Drosophila melanogaster to capture every one of the 100,000 nerve cells that it contains. It’s the first time the entire fruit fly brain has been imaged in this much detail, researchers report online July 19 in Cell.

Experimental neurobiologists can now use the rich dataset as a roadmap to figure out which neurons talk to each other in the fly’s brain, says study coauthor Davi Bock, a neurobiologist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Va.

Learning to fly

A high-resolution look at the fruit fly brain allows scientists to trace the paths of individual nerve cells. One new find: The discovery of a new type of neuron (orange) that talks to other neurons called Kenyon cells (teal), which live in a part of the fly brain associated with learning and memory.

The rainbow image shown here captures the progress on that mapping so far. Despite the complex tangle of neural connections pictured, the mapping is far from complete, Bock says. Neurons with cell bodies close to each other are colored the same hue, to demonstrate how neurons born in the same place in the poppy seed–sized brain tend to send their spidery tendrils out in the same direction, too.

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