Neuroscientists using flies in “virtual reality” found out how a person walks in a straight line

Scientists have put flies in “virtual reality” to study how vision shapes their movements. The experiment showed that insects used their eyes in order not to go astray, but at the same time they did not use vision to return to their trajectory. Writes about this Current Biology.

Neuroscientist Eugenia Chiappé of the Science Center in Champalimo, Portugal, said the new study is about how visual data is processed in the brain so that people, for example, do not bump into walls or fall off a cliff.

The researchers, of course, were unable to tie a pair of virtual reality glasses to flies, but they placed them in a specially created environment with static walls and a ceiling, as well as a floor that can be manipulated and thus altered the flight path. The walls were heated to control the movement of the flies and also to distinguish deliberate from accidental movements.

The experiment showed that vision was used to keep the flies on course before they did, and not to get them back on track after they had already deviated from the route.

“The long-established point of view is reactive compensatory rotations, either through head-body coordination, or directly through body rotations,” says Evgenia Chiappé. “We found that it was not. To maintain gaze stability, vision influences body movements by adjusting and correcting postures as a preventive measure. ”

Even when a person cannot see anything, he still adjusts his movements and posture based on the feedback sent by various parts of the body: for example, tilting his legs at an angle to stay upright on a slope, whether you can see it or not.

From an experiment with flies, it became clear that visual information overrides this feedback from the rest of the body, for example, to achieve goals such as walking in a straight line. The flies, in turn, used their vision to proactively keep their body on the desired trajectory. This suggests a very close relationship between vision and motor control.

“The effect of vision is much closer to limb control than previously thought,” suggests neuroscientist Thomas Cruise.

The researchers believe their findings likely apply to large-brained animals, including humans. Which, according to the hypotheses of scientists, also have bi-directional interactions between the spinal cord and the visual chains, thanks to which information from our eyes gets priority and is quickly used.

Future research may go well beyond simply studying how animals can walk in a straight line. According to the scientific team, these connections between the brain and the body may have to do with our sense of self and how we perceive ourselves in relation to everything else.

The researchers aim to study how vision and movement are affected by different types of behavior and in different scenarios, for example, in patients with mental disorders, which impair the relationship between how we see our surroundings and how it relates to our movement.

“The next steps will be to identify the exact patterns in which these sources of information converge and explore how they interact to govern the animal’s behavior,” says Cruz.

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Alexandr Ivanov earned his Licentiate Engineer in Systems and Computer Engineering from the Free International University of Moldova. Since 2013, Alexandr has been working as a freelance web programmer.
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