weather icon Clear

Fly-catching robot used to study genes of flies related to Alzheimer’s

PALO ALTO, Calif. — Stanford University researchers are using the most sophisticated fly catcher in the world with the potential to speed up the rate of scientific insight into diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Utilizing robotics, computer vision, and high speed cameras along with a powerful suit of sensors, this robot can handle and study fruit flies with unprecedented speed and accuracy.

Fruit flies and humans 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,” said Mark Schnitzer, a professor of biology and applied physics at Stanford University.

But gaining scientific insight from the humble 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. 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,” Schnitzer added.

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,” said Stanford fly biologist Cheng Huang.

And a clean brain, says Huang, 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,” he added.

These symptoms include those of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that now, thanks to a fly catching robot, researchers can better understand at a faster pace.

The description of the first experiments using the robot were published in the journal Nature Methods.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Designers focus on creating healthy homes

Architects and interior designers are realizing the importance of designing spaces with people’s well-being in mind.

Uncarpeted floors are great but still need area rug

Tile or hardwood floors are beautiful and practical, but you must have area rugs to make them more usable and comfortable.

Rose Regatta Dragon Boat Festival at Lake Las Vegas

The 11th annual Rose Regatta Dragon Boat Festival is being held Saturday and Sunday at Lake Las Vegas. All of the money raised through team sponsorships and corporate donations stays in Southern Nevada and goes to Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican’s R.E.D. Rose Program.

Local woman continues fight against breast cancer

Ethiopia Hailemicael was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2010. After treatment, The cancer appeared to be in remission. However, in 2013, a PET scan revealed tumors in her lungs and liver. The breast cancer had returned and was consistent with stage 4 disease.