We owe a lot of our understanding of genetics to the fruit fly. It breeds super fast, lays a ton of eggs, and only has four pairs of chromosomes. Two of those reasons are also why the flies are so annoying, which makes it extra fun to see them abducted by this lab machine.
While fruit flies have always been valuable for scientific study, the process of actually studying them was arduous. People would actually have to knock the little suckers out and inspect them while they were unconscious. Not only is it (obviously) a hassle to have to accost the tiny patients with knock-out gas, but there are some things you (like live reactions) that you just cant study on a passed-out fly.
But a research team at Stanford, led by associate professor of biology and of applied physics Mark Schnitzer, have solved the problem with what ultimately is like a tiny, alien abduction simulator that kidnaps flies. When the laptop-sized machine decides to nab a fly, it flashes the target with infrared light that bounces off the abductee’s thorax which not only helps the robot aim but also to identify each individual fly. Then, a tiny vacuum tube descends to snag the victim, grasping it with just enough suction to keep it from getting away, but not enough to hurt it.
Once the flies have been accosted, the machine’s robot eyes can make all sorts of observations in a snap, ultimately turning experiments that once took days into ones that can take just a few hours. One can only hope that all the care and precision that went into making sure this robot did not hurt the flies can be turned on its head for some home appliance. Flyswatters are so outdated.
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