California Institute of Technology researchers led by Professor Michael Dickinson said they used a puff of air to spur tethered fruit flies into flapping their wings while electrodes measured the activity of neurons in the flies' visual system as high-speed digital cameras recorded their behavior.
Dickinson said the work, conducted with postdoctoral scholars Gaby Maimon and Andrew Straw, suggests at least part of the brain of the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) is in a different and more sensitive state during flight than when the fly is quiescent,
"Researchers have recorded the neural-cell activity of fruit flies before, but only in restrained preparations --animals that had been stuck or glued down," Dickinson said. "Gaby was able to develop a preparation where the animal is tethered, but free to flap its wings." By slicing off a patch of the hard cuticle covering the brain, "we were able to target our electrodes onto genetically marked neurons," he said.
A paper describing the research appears in the early online edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience.