Psyching Out the Fruit Fly

Fruit fly brains are useful for studying genes implicated in neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Getting at them, however, requires messy dissections that can damage tissue. Now, a new technique may offer a hands-off peek into the miniature mind of Drosophila.

A team led by Leeanne McGurk of the Medical Research Council’s Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh, U.K., takes flies bred with genetic markers that make the nervous systems fluoresce (blue, in photo) and bleaches their exoskeletons, making the bodies translucent. Optical projection tomography reveals the 3D structure of the organs and allows researchers to virtually slice the flies’ brains on any axis, the authors report online on 5 September in PloS One. The procedure may one day be automated, collaborator Liam Keegan says, and–with better resolution and longer-lived fluorescence–could make hand-dissection of fruit fly brains a thing of the past.

Originally appeared in Science Magazine as a Random Sample: [html] [pdf]