NOV 13, 2017 5:32 AM PST

AI And The Fruit Fly

The entire internet is dependent on a user's ability to search for a specific item, website or image and then get the information that is closest to the search terms. Entering queries and being able to get results that match is a crucial part of how people use the Internet.

It's about similarity, in fact when you browse YouTube for videos on how to cook a turkey, or a music service to find songs for a wedding, results about cheesecake and funeral music would not be helpful. Similarity searches can happen even without the user knowing it. Once you've watched a film on Netflix, the software is going to show you similar movies the next time you log on. Facial recognition software also depends on similarity being accurate.

But writing the code that makes these searches efficient is challenging. The human brain does this kind of thing very well, but turning that kind of accuracy into software isn't possible just yet. The Salk Institute and scientists from UC San Diego might have found a new model to learn from, and it's in an unlikely place…the brain of a fruit fly

Fruit flies can find food or realize something dangerous is around because they have a highly developed sense of smell. Once they have smelled something, it's stored in their memory, so if they encounter it again, a similarity search in the brain will allow them to respond by either going towards it or fleeing.

Saket Navlakha was the lead author of the paper. He's an assistant professor in the Salk Integrative Biology Laboratory, and he explained "This is a problem that pretty much every technology company with any kind of information retrieval system has to solve, so it's been something that computer scientists have studied for years. Now, we have this new approach to similarity searches thanks to the fly."

Navlakha's colleague Charles Stevens who works in the institute's Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory has studied fruit fly olfaction, and he co-authored the work. Working together they were able to see that when a fruit fly smells something for the first time neurons in the brain fire in a specific pattern that is then associated with that odor should it come up again.

In computer programming, each image, website, or video is "hashed" with a shortened form of coding so that when something similar is found, that item will also have parts of the same hashed pattern. Computer programmers shorten the information each time, so there are fewer hashes every time something similar comes along. In flies, it's the opposite. If they come across an odor similar to one before instead of 50 neurons firing, the fly's brain circuitry extends it to even more neurons. So similar smells are spread out among thousands of neurons, but that allows for each new smell to be given a precise neural "fingerprint." Odors can be given more exact neuron patterns when there are more neurons to choose from. In this way, the information is spread out and more accessible.

The goal of the study was not to describe the mechanism of how the flies store the information on the different odors, but rather to use the process of how they are grouped as a model for computer algorithms that improve search results. They tested their analysis on standard datasets used in computer programing and found that the way fruit flies organize their information enhances the way searches of data come up with similar items. The team hopes that their study can help develop machine learning. They believe it's the first time that a definite link between brain circuitry and computer algorithms has been successfully described. Take a look at their video to learn more about this exciting project.

Sources: Salk Institute, Science, The Verge

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
JUL 05, 2021
Neuroscience
Immature Astrocytes Promote High Levels of Neuroplasticity
JUL 05, 2021
Immature Astrocytes Promote High Levels of Neuroplasticity
Researchers from France have found that astrocytes do more than support neurons in the central nervous system. They foun ...
JUL 13, 2021
Health & Medicine
The Science of Crying
JUL 13, 2021
The Science of Crying
Crying: In humans, it's the production of tears usually accompanied by facial muscle contractions and vocal sounds. ...
JUL 15, 2021
Cannabis Sciences
Cannabis Terpenes Provide Pain Relief in Mice
JUL 15, 2021
Cannabis Terpenes Provide Pain Relief in Mice
Cannabis terpenes, the part of cannabis plants responsible for its smell and taste, may be able to relieve pain both by ...
AUG 15, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Diabetes Drug May Reduce Alzheimer's Risk
AUG 15, 2021
Diabetes Drug May Reduce Alzheimer's Risk
People who take a drug used to lower blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes have less amyloid-beta in their brains, a bio ...
AUG 23, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
A Conductor of the Circadian Rhythm is Identified
AUG 23, 2021
A Conductor of the Circadian Rhythm is Identified
The daily cycle of the planet is reflected in the biology of plants and animals. Even our cells are influenced by what&# ...
SEP 07, 2021
Health & Medicine
Vaccines- a Long History of Cost-Benefit Analysis
SEP 07, 2021
Vaccines- a Long History of Cost-Benefit Analysis
Vaccination and new treatments for diseases have remained topics of skepticism since their inception. When it came to an ...
Loading Comments...