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    07/16/21 | An inexpensive, high-precision, modular spherical treadmill setup optimized for experiments.
    Loesche F, Reiser MB
    Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 2021 Jul 16;15:689573. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2021.689573

    To pursue a more mechanistic understanding of the neural control of behavior, many neuroethologists study animal behavior in controlled laboratory environments. One popular approach is to measure the movements of restrained animals while presenting controlled sensory stimulation. This approach is especially powerful when applied to genetic model organisms, such as , where modern genetic tools enable unprecedented access to the nervous system for activity monitoring or targeted manipulation. While there is a long history of measuring the behavior of body- and head-fixed insects walking on an air-supported ball, the methods typically require complex setups with many custom components. Here we present a compact, simplified setup for these experiments that achieves high-performance at low cost. The simplified setup integrates existing hardware and software solutions with new component designs. We replaced expensive optomechanical and custom machined components with off-the-shelf and 3D-printed parts, and built the system around a low-cost camera that achieves 180 Hz imaging and an inexpensive tablet computer to present view-angle-corrected stimuli updated through a local network. We quantify the performance of the integrated system and characterize the visually guided behavior of flies in response to a range of visual stimuli. In this paper, we thoroughly document the improved system; the accompanying repository incorporates CAD files, parts lists, source code, and detailed instructions. We detail a complete ~$300 system, including a cold-anesthesia tethering stage, that is ideal for hands-on teaching laboratories. This represents a nearly 50-fold cost reduction as compared to a typical system used in research laboratories, yet is fully featured and yields excellent performance. We report the current state of this system, which started with a 1-day teaching lab for which we built seven parallel setups and continues toward a setup in our lab for larger-scale analysis of visual-motor behavior in flies. Because of the simplicity, compactness, and low cost of this system, we believe that high-performance measurements of tethered insect behavior should now be widely accessible and suitable for integration into many systems. This access enables broad opportunities for comparative work across labs, species, and behavioral paradigms.

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