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How flies process visual data

The Hindu
March 13, 2008

Blowflies can be nearly impossible to swat. The tiny acrobats -- nicknamed the 'Ferrari of the insect world' -- zip and zoom at relatively high speeds wherever they go. A team of scientists from Indiana University, Princeton University and the Los Alamos National Laboratory recently gained new insight into how blowflies process visual information.

The findings, published in an article in the Public Library of Science journals, show that the precise, sub-millisecond timing of 'spikes' from visual motion-sensitive nerve cells encodes complex, detailed information of what the fly is seeing.

Indiana University Biophysics Professor Robert de Ruyter van Steveninck has been working with blowflies and their vision for years. He believes his research may eventually lead to faster, more accurate visual and motion identification programs using cameras and computers, according to an Indiana University press release.

"There's a long-standing debate over whether precise, millisecond-scale timing is important to encode information in the nervous system," said van Steveninck, who conducted many of the experiments.

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