Insects by smell found the Apple tree in virtual reality

Scientists from India and Germany have created the arena of virtual reality for insects, in which you can explore the search behavior of animals at great distances in conditions close to natural. The experimental model allows to watch the movement of insects in the wind or in the presence of a gradient of odor. Tested successfully Diptera found objects (tree or flowers) in the virtual space, even if it had to move against the wind. In the absence of visual stimuli insects moved in the direction of the source of fruity odor. A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

When the search behavior of the animals distinguish the signals of the environment, allocate the necessary objects and move them — this requires a continuous dynamic assessment of the space and the constant adjustment of the trajectory. Deciphering the mechanisms of search behavior can be useful to create and improve artificial intelligence algorithms, robots and Internet search engines.

Flying insects are able to find objects at distances that exceed their body size is three orders of magnitude (e.g., centimeter the animal is more than ten meters). On a scale insects are unable to see objects, and for the orientation they use a number of signals: the smells, the direction and strength of the wind, the position of the horizon. In addition, these animals support the position of his own body in flight and determine the distance traveled.

We don’t understand exactly how insects integrate environmental stimuli in search behavior at large distances: the study needs to consider a large number of parameters, and to monitor simultaneously in a fast-moving animal and the position of the stimulus under natural conditions difficult. To solve this problem by using virtual reality it is possible to control all the stimuli and control the behavioral response.

Indian scientists Pavan Kumar Kaushik (Pavan Kumar Kaushik) and Shannon Olsson (Olsson Shannon) from Tata Institute of fundamental research together with Marian Ransom (Renz Marian) of Bielefeld University were placed in various two-winged insects in multimodal virtual reality. Tested pest from North America (the Apple petrocracy Rhagoletis pomonella), a tropical vector infections (aegypti mosquito Aedes aegypti), the Asian form (Pselliophora laeta) and a pollinator cosmopolitan (the Il’nytsya Eristalis tenax) Insects were fastened at the arena in front of a screen, which displays the image of the Apple (or flower for ilnitsy) in the field. The animals could explore the virtual space; in addition to the image, in the arena created a directed flow of air and odors.

If there was only grass and sky, insects fly in a random direction; when virtual reality appeared Apple, Diptera directionally moved in her direction. It means that insects can recognize 3D objects in a virtual environment. Farther away was the tree, the lower Diptera were fixed on it and moved in his direction. When in the environment there were two trees: a small close to the initial position of the animal in removing (their initial angular dimensions match), Diptera prefer to fly to small and close to the tree when selecting objects insects in a complex process of three-dimensional visual signals.

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