It Took 1700 Hours to Map a Fly’s Brain

Image: Mizutani et al/Arxiv.
Image: Mizutani et al/Arxiv.
A team of researchers from Tokai University in Japan recently produced the first 3D model of a fruit fly’s neuronal network. The team’s work is an important step forward for neuroscience insofar as it has overcome the limitations of previous brain imaging techniques by providing a much higher resolution image of the brain’s neural network, capable of depicting the shape and position of roughly 100,000 neurons.

By Daniel Oberhaus | MOTHERBOARD

As detailed in a paper published earlier this month on arxiv, the researchers were able to accomplish this by repurposing an imaging technique usually used for creating 3D models of complex molecules.

Known as x-ray crystallography, this technique works by first crystallizing a purified sample of the molecule being studied. It is then bombarded with x-rays and the x-ray diffraction patterns that result are measured. The problem is that the resulting diffraction patterns are actually only showing changes in electron density inside the molecule, not the positions of the atoms themselves—this must be inferred from the electron diffraction measurements.

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