Research has implications for development of 'bioinspired' robotics
Paloma T. Gonzalez-Bellido, a postdoctoral scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and her colleagues have been awarded a 2012 Cozzarelli Prize by the editorial board of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Gonzalez-Bellido and colleagues were honored for the "scientific excellence and originality" of their study of prey detection and interception in dragonflies, which won in the category of "Biological Sciences." Out of more than 3,700 papers published in the journal last year, the editors selected Gonzalez-Bellido's paper and five others for the Cozzarelli Prize.
The Gonzalez-Bellido paper provides insight into basic visual-motor neural processing, and has implications for the development of "bioinspired" prosthetics for humans.
"I am honored to receive recognition for this work, for which we bridged the clinical and neuroethological fields, and developed new techniques," says Gonzalez-Bellido. "This award has provided me with fuel to keep up the hard work and further my research plans."
In order for a dragonfly to intercept its prey in midair (which dragonflies do with a 95% success rate), it needs to quickly track the prey and predict its future location. To understand how they undertake this complex task, Gonzalez-Bellido and her co-authors studied a small group of 16 motor neurons, called target-selective descending neurons (TSDNs), in the dragonfly Libellula luctuosa. These neurons, originally discovered by co-author Robert M. Olberg in the green darner dragonfly, originate in the brain and extend to the thoracic ganglia, where the neural signal is interpreted and translated into wing muscle movements. Surprisingly, the scientists found that this small group of neurons can detect the direction of target prey with high accuracy and reliability across 360 degrees, and that this information is relayed from the brain to the wing motor centers in population vector form.