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Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Michael Baltzley and Dr. Kristin Latham

Abstract

Diverse organisms have been shown to use the Earth’s magnetic field for orientation and navigation, but the mechanisms underlying magnetoreception are still poorly understood. Recent research on magnetoreception has focused on the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster primarily because of its role as a model organism for understanding the genetic mechanisms underlying behavioral traits. While current research suggests that Drosophila might be able to detect and orient to magnetic fields, different studies offer contradictory results. In this study, we used a Y-maze and selective breeding to attempt to create a population of fruit flies that display a robust magnetic orientation behavior. We used a Y-maze where each fly made 10 choices of whether to go north or south. Of flies that exited the maze, we selected the top 20% of flies from each run to produce the next generation. This protocol was repeated for 12 generations. Our data shows that wild-type Drosophila have no innate north or south preference, nor an innate east or west preference. Additionally, after 12 generations of selection, we have so far been unable to create populations of fruit flies with a magnetic orientation behavior. Further research includes continued selection on our current populations of flies as well as experimental design modifications that could possibly detect a more subtle magnetic orientation behavior.

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