RON HOY: We've just published a paper in Current Biology. And it's a remarkable piece of work. It's a collective effort. It's an, I think, uniquely Cornell story. And it is the first time, it's the first report of the neurophysiological analysis of vision in a jumping spider. Let me introduce the members of the team. So to my left, we have Gil Menda, who is the electrophysiologist on the team.
GIL MENDA: This project was when I was a grad student. Currently I'm a post-doc in the lab. I'm the neurophysiologist of the team. And so I did the recording with the jumping spiders and solved the problem of recording with jumping spiders, since they're a little bit problematic, they're carrying a high pressure in their body, and whenever you poke them, they explode and die. And what I did here is actually solved that method, and bringing all the data to the team. And then the team took the data and they create all kind of analysis.
RON HOY: To my immediate right is James Golden, who is doing a-- his PhD thesis is actually on humans.
JAMES GOLDEN: I'm a PhD student in the Department of Psychology. I joined the Hoy lab a few years ago. I met Gil when he TA'd a neurophysiology course that I took. And when we started with the spiders, I was helping to build the movie stimulae that we use. And I also help with the analysis, I do the spike sorting, and I helped build the figures.
RON HOY: To James' right is Paul Shamble, who is doing his PhD jointly in my lab, and Rob Raguso our chairman.
PAUL SHAMBLE: I'm a PhD student here in neurobiology and behavior. I'm part of the Hoy lab. And as far as this project goes, I suppose I'm sort of the resident arachnologist. And I also did a little bit of whatever was needed, a little bit of programming here and there for building stimuli and analyzing data
RON HOY: To Paul's right, we have Eyal Nitzany, who has so many titles and affiliations that he'll have to speak for himself.
ROB RAGUSO: I'm a PhD student in the program of competitional biology in medicine, the CBM program, of Cornell, which used to be called the Tri-I program, which includes the Memorial and Sloan Kettering Institute, in the city, Weill Cornell Medical College, also in the city-- they're just across from each other-- and Weill Cornell University. And I'm actually doing my PhD here. I have two supervisors, one is here and the other one is in the medical college. And I'm in the department here, I'm in biological statistics and competitional biology. And department in Weill is the Brain Mind Research Institute. So my main contribution to this project was about the analytical stuff, statistics, and also, we brought some very unique mathematical stimuli that help us expose something about the integration of different kinds of inputs.
Let me show you some of the stimulus that we used in order to expose this very unique phenomenon about the spiders. So here we have it here. And this is actually, most of you would probably look at this and this is kind of a white noise. It's moving to the right and it's moving to the left, and then you see some other kinds of things. And so using this stimuli, this is a very unique mathematical stimuli, that each pixel is black and white and changing in a different framework. And we can use these stimuli in order to expose the interactions between the eyes.
RON HOY: Our vision group are investigating the nerve basis of the vision of jumping spiders for the first time.
GIL MENDA: We are working with Phidippus audax. This is a jumping spider today mainly in the Northeast of the United States. So I put a spider in the refrigerator for a few minutes, just to slow her down, take the 3-D holder that we have designed-- OK, once the holder is set like that, the next step is actually to wax the holder to her. It's very crucial that there will be no movement artifact once we are recording. A template here, that holder, we can lock it here on the side with wax.
GIL MENDA: So the brain is located between the two eyes, through her eyes, and I will poke around at this area over here. So the trick is to poke the spider in the right location, because I do only one hole, try to do one hole, because she's high-pressurized. Very gently I'm poking the cuticle until I open the surface of it.
GIL MENDA: Since I really want to try to make it very, very small hole.
GIL MENDA: OK, so we are using an extra small electrode, it's a four megaohm, a tungsten electrode. And so the first step is just to lower the electrode to the right location.
GIL MENDA: So the receptive field is in this area on the left. Can you see the laser? OK. So what you can see on the screen is the appearance of the fly. And once they fly in the right location, in the receptive field of the spider, and the spider recognizes it, you can hear this very, very strong response, of say several units. So we can see here several classes of neurons that are responding to the appearance of the fly.
These spiders are unique, since they deserted the web in their evolution. And they actually use their eyes and feet to hunt their prey. Their big eyes, the median eyes' resolution is almost as a human resolution, a little bit lower. But since in our eyes we have the motion and the acuity in one eye, the spiders just separate the motion to the lateral eyes, and the eye acuity with a moving retina to the anterior and median eyes.
RON HOY: You've now seen how four very talented students who come from diverse backgrounds can pool their talents, working as a team to crack one of the toughest problems in spider biology. Now we've done so in jumping spiders. And of course jumping spiders, if it's not obvious from what you've seen earlier, are very small.
And it turns out that another group of scientists, or engineers and roboticists, are also interested in how very small animals do remarkable things. Are these roboticists or engineers? They are always looking for ways to miniaturize biosensors, and in this case, visual sensors. And it has not escaped our notice that jumping spiders have evolved a unique set of eyes, one set outsourced for detecting motion, and another for a very fine vision, so fine scale that it's almost as good as our own eyes. This should interest the roboticists.
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Jumping spiders have superb vision--their lives depend on it. Jumping spiders are visual predators, stalking their prey before the final jump. Yet the neural basis of this behavior has been hard to examine. Spiders have a high internal pressure such that making a hole in the cuticle releases the pressure and proves fatal to the spider.
Gil Menda, a postdoctoral student in Ron Hoy's lab, managed to solve this problem, and now Gil and his colleagues have begun to investigate the physiology of the spider's visual system.