Mind-controlling lasers force fruit flies to sing and dance

Credit: IDW

Imagine you're a fruit fly, sniffing your way to your next feast of overripe produce. Suddenly, out of the blue you become engulfed in indigo light. Immediately you forget about the fruit, instead landing, and through no natural impulse of your own, begin singing and dancing your little insect heart out. No, your little insect self hasn't been abducted by aliens. Instead, you've just become the newest test subject of the very real Dr. Andrew Straw.

Along with his colleagues at the Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna, as well as a team in the U.S., Dr. Straw has developed a laser-based system for the rapid mind control of fruit flies. Going by the all-too-appropriate acronym FlyMAD (short for Fly Mind Altering Device), the system uses video cameras to track the movement of multiple flies within a confined environment. By firing specifically-tuned lasers at the flies, the researchers can trigger both heat and light-related neural pathways in each fly's brain.

In the future, Dr. Straw hopes to exert even further control over his little fly-brains by combining both his optogenetic and thermogenetic commands. Thankfully, the same technique won't work on more complex forms of life like humans. Fruit flies are the ideal targets for light-based mind control, and the ones used in the FlyMAD experiments have been genetically altered to be the perfect test subjects.

Breathe easy then, friends. Just because Dr. Straw has been able to command flies to moonwalk on command, it doesn't mean that you'll have worry about someone shining a light in your eye and forcing you to revisit your own days on the dance floor — at least not yet.


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