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Fruit Flies Are Not As Dumb As We Thought

Update Date: May 25, 2014 05:43 AM EDT

Fruit flies use around 200 neurons to make difficult decisions, according to a new study. 

According to the study, fruit flies make conscious decisions and can spend longer deliberating over the more difficult of them - like humans. 

The study was aimed at finding out about the cognitive processes in small insects. 

The research involved offering the fruit flies a choice between a smell at a dangerous odor level and then one that was a lot weaker. 

The flies behaved normally when the safe option was four or five times weaker than the more dangerous smell but they found it a more difficult and took more time when the differences were more acute.

"This is the clearest evidence yet of a cognitive process running in a very simple brain," Professor Gero Miesenböck, whose team did the work at the University of Oxford's Centre for Circuits and Behavior, said in the press release.

"People tended to think of insects as tiny robots that just respond reflexively to signals from the environment. Now we know that's not true."

Researchers said such type of behavior is linked to gene known as FoxP. 

"Freedom of action from automatic impulses is considered a hallmark of cognition or intelligence," added Miesenböck. "What our findings show is that fruit flies have a surprising mental capacity that has previously been unrecognized." 

"Before a decision is made, brain circuits collect information like a bucket collects water," explained Shamik DasGupta, the study's lead author, according to The Independent. 

"Once the amount of accumulated information has risen to a certain level, the decision is triggered. When FoxP is defective, either the flow of information into the bucket is reduced to a trickle, or the bucket has sprung a leak."

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