Researchers at Stanford University are using a fruit-fly catching robot to speed up studies on neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, Reuters reported.
Fruit flies and humans are said to share more than 50 percent of the genes known to affect human disease, making them crucial to genetic research.
“Historically the fruit fly has been an important model for the study of various biological processes and has led to important discoveries initially in genetics but then in other fields as well,” Mark Schnitzer, a professor of biology and applied physics at Stanford, was quoted as saying.
But gaining scientific insight from the fruit fly is difficult because preparing their tiny brains for study is time consuming.
“We looked at this situation and thought, well, the fruit fly offers so many advantages, the powerful suit of genetic tools,” Schnitzer said.
“On the other hand there is still a lot of human labor that is involved and with the advent of modern robotic technology we should be able to change the situation and to a degree of automation to the field that simply had not existed before.”
The robot works by releasing flies onto a dish in the pitch dark to ensure they don’t fly away. Then a suction needle guided by infrared cameras catches a fly.
Researchers can then image and prepare it for further study. All of this happens in a matter of seconds without the need to drug the flies.
“You can precisely handle the fly without any anesthesia; that means it can actually give you a clean brain to study,” Cheng Huang, a Stanford fly biologist, was quoted as saying.
A clean brain makes for more accurate results.
“Even in flies there are a lot of genes related to human disease and there are a lot of fly-human disease models and that means you can induce a lot of symptoms,” Huang said.
These symptoms include those of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that researchers can now understand at a faster pace, thanks to the fly-catching robot.
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