When asked what’s so special about Drosophila melanogaster, or the common fruit fly, Gerry Rubin quickly gets on a roll. Rubin has poked and prodded flies for decades, including as a leader of the effort to sequence their genome. So permit him to count their merits. They’re expert navigators, for one, zipping around without crashing into walls. They have great memories too, he adds. Deprived of their senses, they can find their way around a room—much as you, if you were suddenly blindfolded, could probably escape through whichever door you most recently entered.
“Fruit flies are very skillful,” he appraises. And all that skill, although contained in a brain the size of a poppy seed, involves some neural circuitry similar to our own, a product of our distant common ancestor. That’s why, as director of Janelia Research Campus, part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, he’s spent the last 12 years leading a team that’s mapping out the fly brain’s physical wiring, down to the very last neuron.
Source: Ars Technica