HomePLANTS & ANIMALSMolecular & Computational biologyVisual System of Flies Unveils New Cell Types: NYU Researchers' Breakthrough

Visual System of Flies Unveils New Cell Types: NYU Researchers’ Breakthrough

In a groundbreaking discovery, researchers from New York University have unveiled previously unknown cell types in the visual system of fruit flies.

Their innovative tool, designed to find and label neurons during development, has opened up new avenues for understanding brain circuits and behavior.

Combining Data and Algorithm: A Step Forward in Fly Neuroscience

The study, recently published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), utilizes cutting-edge single-cell sequencing data and an ingenious algorithm.

By identifying pairs of genes specific to distinct cell types in the fruit fly brain, the researchers were able to shed light on 100 previously elusive cell types.

Fruit flies, known scientifically as Drosophila, have long been instrumental in neuroscience research due to their manageable brain complexity—approximately 100,000 neurons compared to the human brain’s staggering 86 billion.

This newfound insight allows scientists to investigate the development and function of the brain with higher precision than ever before.

Revolutionizing Neural Circuit Studies

The NYU team, led by Claude Desplan, Silver Professor of Biology and Neural Science, harnessed the power of genetic tools to decipher various cell types in the fly brain.

These tools enabled researchers to understand neural circuit development, functionality, and behavior with unprecedented accuracy.

Desplan’s earlier research had already identified around 200 cell types in the developing fly visual system using single-cell sequencing.

However, half of these cell types remained elusive and challenging to study due to limitations in existing labeling techniques.

A Novel Approach to Cell Type Identification

To address this challenge, Yu-Chieh David Chen, the study’s first author, and his colleagues developed a new tool.

Leveraging extensive single-cell sequencing data for the developing fly visual system, they pinpointed genes and gene combinations exclusively expressed in specific cell types.

Rather than relying on single marker genes, the researchers sought pairs of genes that overlapped exclusively in one cell type.

This innovative approach led to the revelation of MeSps, a previously undiscovered cell type.

Unlocking the Secrets of MeSps

While much remains to be explored about MeSps, researchers are excited about the possibilities.

Future studies will delve into the function and development of this newfound cell type, investigating its potential role in color detection, motion perception, or other light-related features.

The discovery of MeSps paves the way for groundbreaking research in neuroscience, made possible by the new tools and techniques introduced by the NYU team.

Expanding the Reach of Fly Neuroscience

Beyond their specific findings, the NYU researchers emphasize the versatility of their tools.

Their approach can be applied not only to other systems in the developing fly but also to research in different species.

The algorithm’s flexibility in finding marker gene pairs promises high cell-type specificity with a simple tweak of the methodology.

Pioneering New Frontiers in Neuroscience

Claude Desplan lauds the team’s pioneering and efficient approach, highlighting the exceptional tools it provides for investigating developmental questions in neuroscience.

As scientists delve deeper into the world of neural circuits and cellular diversity, the potential for groundbreaking discoveries continues to expand.

With the integration of single-cell sequencing data and advanced algorithms, researchers stand on the cusp of a new era in neuroscience—one that promises to unravel the mysteries of the brain in unprecedented detail.


The New York University researchers have made an impressive breakthrough in the study of fruit fly neurobiology.

Their innovative tool and approach have unlocked new cell types and laid the foundation for future investigations into the complexities of the brain.

As the field of neuroscience continues to advance, such discoveries will undoubtedly pave the way for a deeper understanding of the brain’s inner workings, both in fruit flies and potentially in other species as well.


1. What is the significance of the NYU researchers’ discovery of new cell types in fruit flies’ visual systems?

The discovery of new cell types in fruit flies’ visual systems is significant because it enhances our understanding of brain development and function. Fruit flies, being a model organism, have a simpler neural system compared to humans, making them ideal for studying fundamental questions about the brain. By identifying previously unknown cell types, scientists can now delve deeper into the neural circuits responsible for various functions, paving the way for new breakthroughs in neuroscience.

2. How did the researchers identify these new cell types?

The NYU researchers utilized a novel approach that combined single-cell sequencing data with an algorithm. Instead of relying on single marker genes, they searched for pairs of genes that overlapped exclusively in one cell type. This innovative method allowed them to pinpoint genes specifically expressed in different cell types, leading to the discovery of previously unidentified cells like MeSps.

3. What is the potential impact of MeSps on neuroscience research?

MeSps, being a brand-new cell type, presents a promising avenue for further research. Scientists are excited to investigate its role in detecting color, motion, or other light-related features. Understanding MeSps’ function and development could shed light on broader questions about sensory perception and neural circuitry in the visual system, advancing our knowledge of brain functionality.

4. How does this research contribute to the study of the human brain?

While fruit flies have a much simpler brain compared to humans, studying their neural system offers valuable insights into fundamental brain processes. The tools and techniques developed by the NYU researchers can be adapted to study cell types in more complex organisms, including humans. This research lays the foundation for exploring similar neural circuits and cell diversity in the human brain, potentially leading to better treatments for neurological disorders.

5. Can the new approach of finding marker gene pairs be applied to other species?

Yes, the NYU researchers emphasize the versatility of their approach. The logic of finding marker gene pairs instead of relying on a single gene can be applied to research in various species beyond fruit flies. As long as single-cell data are available, this efficient method can aid in identifying cell types and studying neural circuits in other organisms, expanding the reach of neuroscience research.

6. How does this research contribute to advancements in neuroscience as a whole?

The NYU researchers’ approach of combining single-cell sequencing data with advanced algorithms represents a pioneering step in neuroscience. Their innovative tool provides exceptional precision in studying developmental questions related to neural circuits and cell types. This breakthrough opens up new frontiers for researchers to explore the complexities of the brain with higher accuracy, leading to significant advancements in the field.

7. What future developments can we expect from this research?

The discovery of new cell types and the development of efficient tools are just the beginning. Future studies will likely delve deeper into the function and properties of MeSps and other cell types in fruit flies’ visual systems. Additionally, the research may inspire further investigations into cell diversity and neural circuitry in more complex organisms, including humans, unlocking even more profound insights into the mysteries of the brain.

8. How might this research impact medical and neurological treatments in the future?

A better understanding of neural circuits and cell types is crucial for developing targeted medical treatments for neurological disorders. By applying the tools and knowledge gained from studying fruit flies, scientists may gain insights into the neural mechanisms underlying human brain diseases. This research could potentially lead to more effective treatments and therapies for conditions related to sensory perception and brain functionality.

9. What other areas of neuroscience could benefit from this research?

The NYU researchers’ findings and approach have the potential to impact various areas of neuroscience. The study’s efficient method of identifying marker gene pairs could aid researchers in studying neural circuits and cell diversity in different regions of the brain. This could open up new avenues of research in fields such as memory, learning, motor control, and more, further enriching our understanding of the complexities of the brain.

10. How can interested researchers access the tools developed by the NYU team?

Researchers interested in accessing the tools and algorithms developed by the NYU team can reach out to the research group or corresponding authors of the published study. Collaboration and sharing of scientific resources are essential for advancing neuroscience, and the team may be open to sharing their innovative tools with the broader scientific community to further the field’s progress.

More information: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2307451120



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