Scientists Make Houseflies Run On Tiny Treadmills, Discover That Flies And Humans Perceive Motion The Same Way [VIDEO]

By Josh Lieberman on January 27, 2014 6:59 PM EST

flies humans motion
Flies and humans perceive motion the same way, a Stanford University study finds. (Photo: YouTube screenshot)

Stanford University scientists have found that flies and humans perceive motion in the same way, despite the fact that flies and humans last shared a common ancestor 500 million years ago. The researchers say that the "computational strategy" flies use to perceive motion may explain why they're so infuriatingly good at evading flyswatters. This computational strategy, it turns out, is pretty much how humans' brains figure out how an object is moving too.

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"What's really exciting to me is that no one would have expected this deep similarity between two animals that are so evolutionarily different," said Thomas Clandinin, a Stanford University associate professor of neurobiology and co-author of the study.

Clandinin and his colleagues discovered the fly-human similarity by putting houseflies on tiny round treadmills (see the video below). Scientists already know that flies turn in the direction of motion, so as the researchers showed the flies videos of spontaneous movement, they tracked how the flies moved on the treadmill.

The researchers also monitored human subjects' electroencephalogram (EEG) signals of while they watched spontaneous movement videos consisting of black and white shapes and patterns. These participants also filled out questionnaires about how their perceived the motion depicted in the videos.

When the Stanford researchers compared the reactions of humans and flies, they found that the two animals, while different in almost every way, perceive motion according to the same three things: an object's brightness, speed and the direction in which it moves.

By showing that humans and flies perceive motion in a similar way, the study suggests that there may be an optimal way for animals to view moving objects. Humans and flies haven't had a common ancestor in 500 million years, so according to study co-author Anthony Norcia, "The big question is really 'How does the brain evolve.'"

The study, "Flies and humans share a motion estimation strategy that exploits natural scene statistics," appears in the January issue of Nature Neuroscience.

READ MORE:

Lionfish Continue To Plague Caribbean Ecosystems, But Threat Can Be Controlled

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