April 13, 2009

Computer analyzes fruit fly behavior

California Institute of Technology scientists say they have trained computers to analyze fruit fly behavior in find a genetic basis for it.

The researchers said they have developed a computer program that can analyze aggression and courtship in fruit flies, opening the way for the scientists to perform large-scale, high-throughput screenings for genes that control such innate behavior.

The program allows computers to examine a half an hour of video footage of pairs of interacting flies to characterize their behavior. The researchers -- led by Professors Pietro Perona and David Anderson -- said it might take a biologist more than 100 hours of observation to achieve the same results.

Everyone wants to know how genes control behavior, said Anderson. But in order to apply powerful genetic analyses to complicated social behaviors like aggression and courtship, you need accurate ways of measuring -- or scoring -- those behaviors.

The research is detailed in the journal Nature Methods.