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Fruit flies learn to count?

In “Geneticists Evolve Fruit Flies With the Ability to Count” (Wired, July 12, 2012), Liat Clark reports,

The research team, made up of geneticists from Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada and the University of California, repeatedly subjected test flies to a 20-minute mathematics training session. The flies were exposed to two, three or four flashes of light, with two or four flashes coinciding with a shake of the container the flies were kept in.

Following a pause, the flies were again subjected to the flashing light. None prepared themselves for a repeat of the shake since they could not discern a difference between two, three or four flashes — until, that is, the 40th generation of descendants were put to the test.

The findings back-up the theory that numerical skills such as mental arithmetic are ancient constructs.

It’s fun but not numerical skills. The fruit flies can’t work with numbers; they have just learned (via epigenetics?) when they will get all shook up.

Could be epigenetics, but the researchers are calling it directed evolution. We should sic BioLogos on to them.

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One Response to Fruit flies learn to count?

  1. I haven’t read the study. Do they know for sure it was caused by a mutation? Or could it have been a recessive trait not expressed in the original population?

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