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Finally, Robots Replace Grad Students

June 3rd, 2015

Finally, Robots Replace Grad Students

The fruit fly has been a goldmine of genetics research for the human race.  This tiny insect has informed research in surprising ways, and led to breakthroughs in disease treatments.  How has all this research been accomplished? It’s mostly due to an army of graduate students who’ve spent countless hours examining anaesthetized fruit flies.

Robots can now the work of grad students in far less time, and can examine living flies.  This amazing fly-snatching ability is programmed into robot arms with suctions tubes, visual capacity and infra-red beams of light.  When a robot is ready to examine of fly, it sends a flash of light onto the fly’s thorax which causes a distinct reflective pattern.  The robot uses the pattern to identify that fly in future encounters.

 

The robot development was led bye Mark Schnitzer an associate professor of biology and of applied physics at Stanford University, and is described in detail in Nature Methods.

The ability to distinguish individual flies consistently is a huge breakthrough in this type of research, as it allows for a wide range of studies, including behavioral analysis.

Fruit flies have provided scientific knowledge for an incredible array topics important to humans, including gene mutation due to radiation, daily sleep/waking rhythms, and a great deal of foundational research on how cells (fly and human) communicate with one another.

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