FlySpy

I’ve worked on the FlySpy project which I joined in the last semester of my Masters. We aim to track the position and behavior of fruit flies ( Drosophila Melanogaster ) using computer vision techniques.

What we do

Fluorescing fly
Fair use from Tursiops-Biology

Fruit flies are model organisms for genetics research. Their genes can be tagged with fluorescent markers so that when a specific gene is expressed, the fluorescent gene is too. e.g. When a gene controlling anger/stress is expressed, the fly starts fluorescing green (think The Hulk ;) ). Due to the size of these organisms, this is clearly visible and can be imaged using cameras. By measuring the intensity of fluorescence we can make inferences about the level of expression of the genes; by tracking the flies we can measure statistics about their behavior (like activity and interactions); and using statistics, we can find correlations between the two.

My motivation

The Department of Computational and Molecular Biology is a fascinating place where researchers from different fields work in harmony to solve some of the biggest mysteries mankind has known. There are all kinds of computer engineers (3 cheers for us ;)), statisticians, mathematicians, biologists, geneticists, and a lot of others. Its only appropriate since the challenges facing us are so difficult. Its mind-boggling to realise that ALL living organisms share so much of the building blocks and behave so similarly. With all our technology and science we have as yet failed to fully comprehend How we come about, How we are born, What are the processes within our bodies, How we can cure diseases. The good folk at CMB and others all around the world are making great strides.

I like to believe I am helping to advance the cause and if in whatever small part due to my efforts, we can find a cure for cancer, or understand ourselves better, I would consider my time well spent. It also helps to have the best advisor in the world and be doing such cool stuff as we do.

Challenges

At first glance this task might seem trivial, but let me assure you it is not. To convince you, I’d like to compare what we do with what you are probably quite familiar with: Hawk-eye. Imagine not just one ball, but several balls all whizzing around randomly, bouncing against each other and going pretty much any place in the screen. Also, the balls don’t follow any set trajectory, and can change directions mid-flight in the blink of an eye. When you find Hawk-eye can do that, call us :P

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