New tool discovers new cell types in fly visual system

Researchers from New York University have made a groundbreaking discovery in the visual system of fruit flies by using a new tool to find and label neurons during their development. Their study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), combined single-cell sequencing data with a novel algorithm to identify previously unknown cells in the brains of fruit flies. Fruit flies have about 100,000 neurons, making them an ideal model organism to study brain development and function.

Using genetic tools to distinguish different types of cells in fruit flies has revolutionized the study of neural circuits, enabling scientists to understand circuit development, function, and behavior more precisely. The researchers found approximately 200 cell types in the developing fly’s visual system using single-cell sequencing. However, about 100 cell types remained difficult to study and label, hindering further research.

This new tool and approach allow scientists to gain a deeper understanding of the diverse cell types in the brain, unlocking potential insights into neural circuitry and behavior. The findings could have implications not only for understanding fruit fly biology but also for advancing our knowledge of the human brain’s intricate workings.

The researchers at New York University have developed a more efficient approach to identify specific cell types, moving away from the laborious testing of multiple gene combinations. They tapped into the vast amount of single-cell sequencing data available for the developing fly’s visual system to pinpoint genes and gene combinations exclusively expressed in certain cell types.

Instead of relying on a single gene marker, their novel tool looks for pairs of genes that overlap only in one cell type. Through this method, they identified a brand-new cell type called MeSps, which had not been observed before despite the extensive study of the fruit fly’s visual system.

The researchers believe this approach can be applied to other systems in the developing fly and even in research involving other species. The discovery of MeSps opens up new avenues of research to investigate its development and function in detecting color, motion, or other light features.

By offering exceptional tools for neuroscience research, this pioneering approach enables high precision when investigating developmental questions in various organisms. The study authors, including Yu-Chieh David Chen and Claude Desplan, emphasized the broader applications of their methodology in the field of neuroscience beyond just the visual system of fruit flies.

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