Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Contrasting Colours

How fruit flies perceive different colours –  similarities with the human brain's system

25 February 2020

Contrasting Colours

Fruit fly genes, and the proteins they design, often work together in similar, but simpler, ways to our own. Studies in flies yield clues to how we develop and live. Here light-sensitive cells called photoreceptors (highlighted in green) line the back of the fly’s retina. Different cells, such as the yR8 photoreceptors (red) respond to different wavelengths of light – ultimately sending a palette of visual information to the brain. Along the way, a special type of nerve cell, called dm9, compares the strength of signals from different photoreceptors – the 'contrast' of the reds, blues and greens for example, may help the fly to pick out individual colours in the outside world, similar to how horizontal cells work in human vision. This similarity could mean future studies in the fly eye will shed light on our own coloured vision, and how photoreceptors are affected in conditions like colour-blindness.

Written by John Ankers

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