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The Brain Cells That Guide Animals

Virtual-reality experiments on fruit flies offer insight into how the brains of mammals, like us, might build maps of their world.Photograph by Tanya Wolff

t may seem absurd to compare a tiny fruit fly’s brain to that of a majestic elephant. Yet it is the dream of many neuroscientists to find deep rules that very different brains share. As Gilles Laurent, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany, who has studied a variety of animals, from locusts to turtles, has , “Neural responses can be described by the same mathematical operation…in completely different systems.” Vivek Jayaraman, a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus, and a former student of Laurent’s, believes that neuroscientists are on the verge of identifying some of these deep neural rules. Grasping them would advance another neuroscientific

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