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Insects 'Are Smarter Than You Think'

Scientists claim to have found evidence of 'free will' in flies.

If the researchers are right, it means the annoying bluebottle or wasp that will not leave you alone is choosing to be a pest.

Buzzing with intelligence?
Buzzing with intelligence?

The discovery could overturn basic assumptions about the difference between humans and animals.

Understanding the mechanisms involved may also lead to development of free-thinking robots, bringing science fiction to life.

Simple creatures such as insects are generally regarded as biological machines which only respond to external stimuli.

Apparently variable behaviour in such animals is usually attributed to random activity in their brains.

But an international study of fruit flies has shown that cannot be the case  - the flies tested appeared to make choices.

The research was carried out by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

One said: "We found there must be an evolved function in the fly brain which leads to spontaneous variations in fly behaviour.

"The results of our analysis indicate a mechanism which could form the biological foundation for what we experience as free will."

They say the next step is to use genetics to localise and understand the fly brain circuits involved.

This could lead directly to the development of robots with a similar capacity for spontaneous, non-random behaviour.

It could also help combat disorders that affect human behaviour such as depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.