Scientists have created a thermogenetic tool that can alter a fly’s mind and make it sing and dance.

The Fly Mind Altering Device, or FLyMAD, lets the researchers use heat from infrared lasers to activate genetically defined brain cell types in flies genetically modified to be sensitive to temperature to help them understand the role of neuronal cells in flies’ courtship behaviour.

The scientists found that specific cells where switched on and off immediately with heat of around 30 degrees Celsius and this changed the fly’s behaviour, which allowed the researchers to analyse the links between the two.

To test FlyMAD, the scientists made the flies “moonwalk” by activating and deactivating certain neurons, and then used the tool to find the neurons responsible for the flies’ courtship “singing”, which they could then activate.

The FlyMAD was developed in collaboration between researchers from Vienna University of Technology, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP), with their findings published in the journal Nature Methods.


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