An efficient strategy to explore the environment for available resources involves the execution of random walks where straight line locomotion alternates with changes of direction. This strategy is highly conserved in the animal kingdom, from zooplankton to human hunter-gatherers. Drosophila larvae execute a routine of this kind, performing straight line crawling interrupted at intervals by pause turns that halt crawling and redirect the trajectory of movement. The execution of this routine depends solely on the activity of networks located in the thoracic and abdominal segments of the nervous system, while descending input from the brain serves to modify it in a context-dependent fashion. I used a genetic method to investigate the location and function of the circuitry required for the different elements of exploratory crawling. By using the Slit-Robo axon guidance pathway to target neuronal midline crossing defects selectively to particular regions of the thoracic and abdominal networks, it has been possible to define at least three functions required for the performance of the exploratory routine: (1) symmetrical outputs in thoracic and abdominal segments that generate the crawls; (2) asymmetrical output that is uniquely initiated in the thoracic segments and generates the turns; and (3) an intermittent interruption to crawling that determines the time-dependent transition between crawls and turns.
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