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Cort continues his Optogenetics Odyssey in this week’s installment of “Pretty Fly for a White Guy”

Hello, again. I’m Cort, the fly guy (I also do research with fruit flies) at Backyard Brains.

Since the last time I posted I’ve made significant progress in my research! IT WORKS!!!

In the above video what you’re seeing is one of the flies I’ve bred having its proboscis extension activated with an LED. Optogenetics works! Now that I have it work, I’ve been busy playing with the new “flyscope” and raising more transgenic (organism with dna put into it from another organism, in this case the light sensitive protein) flies for my experiments. In order to breed the flies that I need, I had to dive straight into a world of genetics and Fly husbandry. I spent quite a bit of time at the University of Michigan Shafer lab learning about Drosophila (fruit flies) and how to raise them.


Fly husbandry is pretty intimidating at a glance, but once you break past the complexity it really isn’t so bad. It’s common knowledge that most complex organisms undergo a process called “recombination” during meiosis (when sex cells or “gametes” are formed in the body). One of the main reasons that scientists love using fruit flies to conduct genetic experiments is (more…)

Cockroach Nascar: More Than Left Turns! Olivier’s Project is Ramping Up!

Hey, it’s Olivier*! Since I last posted a few developments have occured. First off, I have excelled in the surgical prep portion of my project so much so that I am able to perform two surgeries within the span of an hour and then I can give them a two hour rest so that I can run experiments in the afternoon. It’s all about efficiency! *(Editor’s Note: aka Welcome to the O-Zone)

Speaking of those experiments I finally achieved forward movement of the cockroaches using a function generator! A function generator is this magical box which sends electricity at a desired frequency, amplitude, pulse duration, and pulse width; the flow of electricity can also be sent out continuously or in short bursts. I made a breadboard circuit to help control the stimulation from the function generator to the cockroach so that I can control which cerci are activated. In the case of forward movement it’s both cerci that are stimulated. A white three-pronged leash attaches to the electrode (white glove like cable, instead of the bluetooth backpack) and to the breadboard (rectangular structure with wires protruding from it). If anyone is wondering the KitKat IS necessary for an organism’s sustenance… just not the cockroach’s… I need a break every once and awhile…


Neural Interfaces Desde Santiago Hasta Oaxaca to Ann Arbor

In March 2014 we went to Mexico’s first Maker Faire, invited by Amor Muñoz, a Mexican Textile and Electronic artist, who we met at Chile’s Santiago MakerFaire in November 2013. The Mexico MakerFaire took place in Oaxaca, a place known for traditional crafts, pero ahora se esta transformando en un lugar de “Nuevos-Makers” de diseño, electronica, etc.

During this MakerFaire, we ran a two day workshop where we met Jose Enrique, un alumno de ingeniera electronica. He knew his electronics, y nos ayudó mucho durante el taller. Jose asked if he could have some extra equipment for his studies – specifically, an extra Arduino for more experiments with the EMG SpikerShield.

We said, “Sure, but promise us that you will send us a video of something you did with this gear, with a deadline of three weeks.” Y el lo hizo, tres semanas después nos envió un video de liquid cystal display (LCD) contralado con la actividad de sus músculos. So….Let’s do more! We gave him a job offer to design “three interfaces” with the EMG SpikerShield, and importantly, write them up in BYB style so we could add them to our website. Durante Mayo y Julio, trabajabamos en equipo, and now it’s ready – Versión en EnglishVersion in Español). You can learn how to control a stepper motor, an LCD screen, and a Gripper arm with your muscle activity!

Cuando todo estaba listo,  we asked Jose, “Gracias por tu buen trabajo, Can you send us your bank details so we can wire you the compensation for your good work?” Jose counter-offered, saying, “Can you send me an oscilloscope instead?”
Ummm….like… o sea….onda…  Yeah! we can do that. An engineer that wants to be paid in equipment that allows him to invent more? We approve. We bought the oscilloscope he wanted from Amazon and sent it on down to Oaxaca. It is now part of Jose’s lab. Gracias por tu trabajo Jose, e ¡inventa más! Con nuestros cerebros quemando con el fuego de creatividad y nuestras manos productivas podemos dar a luz cosas maravillosas a este mundo.  See Jose’s home lab below.  Eso es donde las ideas se transforman en realidad.

We should have expected no less. Our main method of communication has been through that popular invention of Mark Zuckerburg, and this is Jose’s profile photo. ¡Saludos! Stay tuned… we are now beginning to work on EEG’s together. Also, Happy Birthday Tesla!