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10/02/2018

Exploring a Tiny Brain

 CHAPTER 96 A Brief Bit on Fruit Flies

 

September was not a good month and this will end up being a very short column. A couple of weeks ago, our stocksandnews.com editor, Brian Trumbore, brought over a dish that he had prepared.  It was his version of one of my wife's favorite recipes, her "company chicken".  The chicken breast was quite tender and tasty.  However, a piece of the chicken got stuck in my esophagus and wouldn't go down or come back up.  Our wonderful rescue squad arrived and I wondered why they didn't try the Heimlich maneuver.  I was able to breathe and apparently the Heimlich doesn't work if that's the case.  In the ER they injected a drug that sometimes will loosen the muscles or whatever is holding the object and it will go down or come up.  It didn't work. 

 So it was it was off to surgery for an endoscopy.  With whatever instrument they used, they went down and did find and remove the chicken.  However, they were concerned that some of the chicken may have gotten in my lungs so they called back a lung doctor who was in his car on his way home and he performed a bronchosocopy looking into my lungs.  No chicken but just a bit of fluid.  Otherwise, the doctor said the lungs were in good shape.  Coincidentally, a member of our audio group in the Old Guard group that I belong to was on the list for a lung transplant and the thought occurred to me that if I died in the hospital he could have my lungs.  Happily, just a few days later he got the call from the hospital in Philadelphia and got his transplant and is doing well. 

 Just a few days after I got home from the hospital, my 92-year-old wife ended up there for a very serious medical problem I won't go into.  At the same time, her 95-year-old brother in Pennsylvania had surgery of a rare nature.  At this point, we're all back home and await the next traumas of life in our 90s. 

 OK, this column is supposed to deal with science and technology.  Over the past couple of years, I've seen many articles dealing with the human brain.   Topics included articles on consciousness, connections among various parts of the brain, etc.  With our brain's billions of neurons and all those synapses connecting the neurons, figuring out what's going on that gelatinous mass is a truly huge challenge.  So, when I saw a very brief mention of some work published in the journal Cell on the fruit fly brain, with only a hundred thousand neurons, I thought I would take a closer look and see what was going on with that insect. The fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, is not a dumb little critter, having to deal with such things as place learning, courtship behavior, grooming, and actions based on memory.

 When I looked up the article I was surprised to find that, unlike many articles I access in journals to which I do not subscribe, I did not have to pay money to see the entire article.  The more than 20 authors from the USA and UK wanted the article and all the data to be available to the scientific community to assist in trying to figure out what's going on in the fly brain.  For me, the article was extremely difficult to understand and was very detailed in describing the instrumentation involved. 

 The fruit fly brain is only the size of a poppy seed.  What amazed me the most was that the workers examined over 7,000 slices of that tiny brain.  To actually get that many slices from such a small object seems impossible.  They did treat the brain in some sort of solution and then potted it in a resin to make the slices with a diamond knife.  They then used an electron microscope with some sort of rapid scanning facility to make some 21 million images!  The images are at "synaptic resolution", which means that you can follow  connections among neurons throughout the brain.  So, if you're interested in doing research on the fruit fly's brain have at it.  Just Google " journal Cell fruit fly brain".  If anyone follows up on this I will be astounded!  If I were to do so, what would interest me would be to find out how some flies manages to escape my fly swatter when they invade my home. 

 Would you believe that was going to be the end of my fruit fly entry until I saw another article in the September 14 issue of Science titled "A tailless aerial robotic flapper reveals that flies use torque coupling in rapid banked turns".  The article, written by a number of researchers from The Netherlands, constructed a tailless robot 55 times larger than a fruit fly that mimics the escape maneuvers of a fruit fly despite its large size compared to the fly.  So, now we know how that pesky fly escapes my fly swatter so often.  OK, someone knows this but I'm just not up to try to understand all the stuff about pitch, yaw, roll and other factors involved in flying despite the fact I spent two years at NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory (Now NASA's John H. Glenn Research Center) in Cleveland.  Also, I've come down with a cold and am due for a nap.

 Next column, hopefully, November 1.

 Allen F. Bortrum



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Dr. Bortrum

10/02/2018

Exploring a Tiny Brain

 CHAPTER 96 A Brief Bit on Fruit Flies

 

September was not a good month and this will end up being a very short column. A couple of weeks ago, our stocksandnews.com editor, Brian Trumbore, brought over a dish that he had prepared.  It was his version of one of my wife's favorite recipes, her "company chicken".  The chicken breast was quite tender and tasty.  However, a piece of the chicken got stuck in my esophagus and wouldn't go down or come back up.  Our wonderful rescue squad arrived and I wondered why they didn't try the Heimlich maneuver.  I was able to breathe and apparently the Heimlich doesn't work if that's the case.  In the ER they injected a drug that sometimes will loosen the muscles or whatever is holding the object and it will go down or come up.  It didn't work. 

 So it was it was off to surgery for an endoscopy.  With whatever instrument they used, they went down and did find and remove the chicken.  However, they were concerned that some of the chicken may have gotten in my lungs so they called back a lung doctor who was in his car on his way home and he performed a bronchosocopy looking into my lungs.  No chicken but just a bit of fluid.  Otherwise, the doctor said the lungs were in good shape.  Coincidentally, a member of our audio group in the Old Guard group that I belong to was on the list for a lung transplant and the thought occurred to me that if I died in the hospital he could have my lungs.  Happily, just a few days later he got the call from the hospital in Philadelphia and got his transplant and is doing well. 

 Just a few days after I got home from the hospital, my 92-year-old wife ended up there for a very serious medical problem I won't go into.  At the same time, her 95-year-old brother in Pennsylvania had surgery of a rare nature.  At this point, we're all back home and await the next traumas of life in our 90s. 

 OK, this column is supposed to deal with science and technology.  Over the past couple of years, I've seen many articles dealing with the human brain.   Topics included articles on consciousness, connections among various parts of the brain, etc.  With our brain's billions of neurons and all those synapses connecting the neurons, figuring out what's going on that gelatinous mass is a truly huge challenge.  So, when I saw a very brief mention of some work published in the journal Cell on the fruit fly brain, with only a hundred thousand neurons, I thought I would take a closer look and see what was going on with that insect. The fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, is not a dumb little critter, having to deal with such things as place learning, courtship behavior, grooming, and actions based on memory.

 When I looked up the article I was surprised to find that, unlike many articles I access in journals to which I do not subscribe, I did not have to pay money to see the entire article.  The more than 20 authors from the USA and UK wanted the article and all the data to be available to the scientific community to assist in trying to figure out what's going on in the fly brain.  For me, the article was extremely difficult to understand and was very detailed in describing the instrumentation involved. 

 The fruit fly brain is only the size of a poppy seed.  What amazed me the most was that the workers examined over 7,000 slices of that tiny brain.  To actually get that many slices from such a small object seems impossible.  They did treat the brain in some sort of solution and then potted it in a resin to make the slices with a diamond knife.  They then used an electron microscope with some sort of rapid scanning facility to make some 21 million images!  The images are at "synaptic resolution", which means that you can follow  connections among neurons throughout the brain.  So, if you're interested in doing research on the fruit fly's brain have at it.  Just Google " journal Cell fruit fly brain".  If anyone follows up on this I will be astounded!  If I were to do so, what would interest me would be to find out how some flies manages to escape my fly swatter when they invade my home. 

 Would you believe that was going to be the end of my fruit fly entry until I saw another article in the September 14 issue of Science titled "A tailless aerial robotic flapper reveals that flies use torque coupling in rapid banked turns".  The article, written by a number of researchers from The Netherlands, constructed a tailless robot 55 times larger than a fruit fly that mimics the escape maneuvers of a fruit fly despite its large size compared to the fly.  So, now we know how that pesky fly escapes my fly swatter so often.  OK, someone knows this but I'm just not up to try to understand all the stuff about pitch, yaw, roll and other factors involved in flying despite the fact I spent two years at NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory (Now NASA's John H. Glenn Research Center) in Cleveland.  Also, I've come down with a cold and am due for a nap.

 Next column, hopefully, November 1.

 Allen F. Bortrum