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ID 1434

Do Flies Have Cognition?

Description:
Doctor Josh Dubnau discusses some remarkably sophisticated behaviors in fruit flies that suggest that they do have cognition.
Transcript:
The question of whether flies have cognition depends a lot on what we mean by cognition. Fruit flies are remarkably sophisticated animals in the sense that they can court members of the opposite sex. They are able to find animals that are of the same species as they are, not a different fruit fly species but the same one, drosophila melanogaster courts drosophila melanogaster. Fruit flies are able to find appropriate food sources; they defend territory from other fruit flies. They’ll fight over access to a place to lay eggs, they are able to figure out what time of day is the most appropriate time to sleep and what is the most appropriate time to forage for food, and they can learn from their past experiences about what stimuli were noxious, or what stimuli (what smells, what sounds or what colors) were associated with something that tasted bad or something that was pleasing. Whether or not that was cognition, I’ll leave that to the philosophers.
Keywords:
cognition, drosophila, melangoster fruit, fly, flies, josh, dubnau, cshl
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Creative Commons License This work by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Related content:

1433. What are Model Systems? (1)
Doctor Josh Dubnau explains that model systems are particular species of animals that substitute for humans or other animals. For genetic and historic reasons, the fruit fly is a commonly used model.
1720. Training Flies
Many of the genes important for memory in flies are probably also important for memory in other animals, even humans. Doctor Josh Dubnau explains how the T-maze is used to test memory in flies.
1721. 3D Gene Expression
Like all brains, insect brains have different structures that accomplish specific tasks. Dr. Josh Dubnau introduces a technique for examining gene expression in the brains of fruit flies.
1437. The Shibire Experiment
Doctor Josh Dubnau describes how he and his colleagues at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory devised an experiment that dissociated the encoding and retrieval of memory in fruit flies.
1439. Biochemicals - Excitation and Inhibition
Doctor Josh Dubnau explains that the genes active in different neurons can make them excitatory (e.g. glutamate) or inhibitory (e.g. GABA). These neurotransmitters are critical to learning.
16264. Gallery 10: Male Fruit Fly
Early drawing of a male fruit fly.
1719. Fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster)
The fruit fly is easy to maintain, has large numbers of offspring, and grows quickly. The fruit fly shares with humans a number of so-called “master,” or homeotic, genes.
1435. Mutant Screens
Doctor Josh Dubnau explains that mutant screens generate a large panel of mutant animals that average a mutation in one gene. Each animal is then tested for a particular characteristic.
16269. Gallery 10: Columbia University Fly Room, around 1920
The Fly Room at Columbia University, around 1920.
1436. Disentangling Encoding and Retrieval
Doctor Josh Dubnau explains that memories may be present (encoded) but not accessible (retrievable). Scientists have devised a number of experiments for teasing apart encoding from retrieval.
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