Kiel Nano, Surface and Interface Science (KiNSIS)

"The fly's eye illustrates a new principle of neural circuit design", Simon Laughlin, University Cambrige, UK (CRC 1461)

Sep 23, 2021 from 04:00 PM

Online

A neural circuit's components are costly so for efficiency the performance of components (e.g. their SNRs) are matched to avoid wasteful over-capacity. However, in a system made of components whose costs differ another strategy comes into play - investment is distributed among the components to maximise the system's performance. This principle has been demonstrated in biomechanics, and to demonstrate its wider applicability to brains we ask a simple question. Given that an animal invests a given quantity of space, materials and energy in an eye, how should these resources be divided between the optics that form the image and the photoreceptor array that captures the image? We model fly eyes and by relating investments in optics and photoreceptors to optical and cell biological constraints, show how resource allocation determine the information content of the coded image. We find that flies allocate resources efficiently, the optimum allocation is sensitive to photoreceptor energy costs and efficient allocation explains a fact, so obvious that it is seldom noticed, the photoreceptive waveguides in insect compound eyes are the longest on the planet and can be 40 x longer than their vertebrate equivalent’s cone outer segments. Finally, be plotting the performance surface of eyes over design space we find a large robust zone within which eyes can be specialised for particular tasks without unduly compromising general purpose vision. These findings offer insights that will, I suggest, further our understanding of the function, design and evolution of neural circuits. Special thanks to Francisco Heras, who took the lead in this project by designing, developing and implementing the model.

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