A Matter of Taste

Fruit Flies

Drosophila Flies

Efforts to understand nervous systems and basic functions such as taste discrimination often turn to insects that have systems that can be more readily explored and manipulated. Drosophila melanogaster has taste receptors in both its mouthparts and on the ends of its legs (tarsi). Mutations can be produced in Drosophila that allow exploration at the genetic and molecular level. Combined with neurological techniques, Drosophila is a powerful model to explore how a taste system functions.

Drosophila has 6 classes of taste receptors on its tarsi, based on response to sugar/sweet/sour/bitter. Flies walking on potential food items receive information about the quality. Using the legs to taste is more efficient than using the mouthparts would be.

Receptors on the prothoracic (front) legs differ in quality from receptors on the mouthparts and the metathoracic (middle) legs. The receptors on the mouthparts only contact the food after the information from the leg receptors have convinced the fly to begin feeding. Apparently the fly needs different information about the food it is eating than it needs to make its decision to eat. The differences in taste receptors in different locations on the fly provide a means to connect the function of the receptors with fly behavior.

Taste reception has components in common in all animals. What we learn from fruit flies can be used to better understand our own sense of taste.

Time flies like an arrow.
Fruit flies like a banana.

The Journal of Neuroscience, 21 May 2014, 34(21): 7148-7164
doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0649-14.2014

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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2 Responses to A Matter of Taste

  1. anastaciast says:

    Groan! Time flies like a banana! 🙂
    So, here’s my question: how do fruit flies find the fruit on my kitchen counter? Do they arrive with the fruit? Do they sneak in through cracks in the wall?
    We put our rotted peaches in a bucket while picking and we had bees, a Comma and a (drone fly?) After awhile it began to gross me out.

  2. jjneal says:

    Fruit flies arrive with your fruit. They are common in grocery stores and throughout the food system. Fruit with some damage can have developing fruit fly larvae (generation time (egg to egg) 2 weeks). All tomato sauce will have some fruit fly larvae mashed into the mix. The FDA has limits on how many, but under a critical number they are acceptable. Thus the saying 100% of the people consume insects unintentionally.

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