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A common flesh fly takes off and maneuvers effortlessly, its head and body steadied by a hidden, miniscule gyroscope-like structure that gives it an unparalleled balance.
That same fly—those specialized structures, known as "halteres," now surgically removed—takes off again, but immediately begins to tumble wildly about, unable to right herself or tell up from down, side from side.
So what's happening? Why does it matter? And what might it mean for us?
Case Western Reserve University's Alexandra Yarger, a Ph.D. candidate in biology and first author on a new paper published in September in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, has some of the answers to those questions.
Yarger - Studies - Activity - Neurons - Structure
Yarger studies the electrical activity of neurons in the haltere structure, which was once a second set of wings, but transformed by millions of years of evolution into what serves as the unseen balancing system.
Her discoveries might someday help us build more responsive drones or better-balanced robots, said Jessica Fox, assistant professor of biology at Case Western Reserve and Yarger's mentor on the project. Her lab has been studying the behavior of flies and how sensory systems process information since 2013.
Paper - Halteres - Paper - Systems - Information
"We had already demonstrated in a 2015 paper what flies actually do with their halteres when moving around and in this paper, we've asked what their nervous systems do with that information," she said.
Yarger gained much of her insight by essentially taking over the operation of the haltere for several species of common flies: flesh flies, black flies and hoverflies. She glued a bit of metal to the tip of each fly's haltere and then manipulated it with a small magnet to simulate a change in orientation during flight and...
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