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A holodeck for flies, fish and mice

07:00 EDT 21 Aug 2017 | Physorg.COM

How do people orient themselves when they are in a new area? How do we use street signs or houses, for instance, to estimate the distance we have traveled? Put simply: how do we update our mental map? Neuroscientists have been studying such questions in animals to learn about the basic principles of spatial cognition. "Until now, we have envied an invention from the world of science fiction: a holodeck like they have in Star Trek," says Prof. Dr. Andrew Straw. The holodeck is a space which can simulate any desired virtual world. "Something like the holodeck from Star Trek would enable key experiments in which we could artificially decouple an animal's movement from its perception," says the Freiburg professor of biology. Together with his colleague Prof. Dr. Kristin Tessmar-Raible from the Max F. Perutz Laboratories, a joint venture of the University of Vienna and Medical University of Vienna, Austria, and an international team, Straw has constructed a kind of holodeck and with it created new opportunities for researching spatial cognition. The animals perceived the simulated objects as real and changed their behavior in different visual environments. The research team describes its results in the Nature Methods journal.

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