Scientists create holodeck to study animal brain function

Current methods to study the neuronal basis underlying behavior in animals, restrict sensory input and feedback.
By Amy Wallace  |  Aug. 21, 2017 at 4:00 PM
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Aug. 21 (UPI) -- Scientists at the University of Freiburg have developed the FreemoVR system that immerses a freely-moving animal in a 3D world to study its brain function.

The research, published today in Nature Methods, shows how FreemoVR enables researchers to control an animal's visual experience, while maintaining the natural feedback for its tactile senses.

The technology allows scientists to study the neuronal basis underlying animal behavior without partial or full immobilization of the animal.

"We wanted to create a holodeck for animals so that they would experience a reactive, immersive environment under computer control so that we could perform experiments that would reveal how they see objects, the environment, and other animals," Andrew Straw, who is leading development of FreemoVR, said in a press release.

Researchers used FreemoVR to test the reaction of freely swimming zebrafish and freely flying flies to a virtual upright post and tested freely walking mice in a virtual and real elevated maze.

The experiments revealed previously unnoticed behavioral differences between a wildtype and mutant zebrafish strain.

"I am particularly excited about the possibility to mimic more complex, naturalistic environments and to test more advanced brain functions in medaka and zebrafish," said MFPL scientist Kristin Tessmar-Raible. "It will help us to better understand brain functions and to what extent we can use these diurnal vertebrates as models for neuropsychological malfunctions."

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