In collaboration with colleagues from Portugal and Spain, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, have developed an apparatus that automatically applies odors to an airstream, while filming and analyzing the behavior of insects simultaneously.
Drosophila fly in a glass Flywalk tube
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology/Knaden
Two views inside the brain of a fruit fly while it is smelling; left: active glomeruli (represented by bright colors) after stimulation with a deterrent odor (linalool); right: active glomeruli after application of an attractant (3-methylthio-1-propanol). This shows that deterrent responses are generated in lateral areas of the brain, whereas attractant responses are generated in medial areas. Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology/Strutz
The system is called Flywalk and consists of glass tubes, airstream regulators, and a video camera. The reactions of 15 flies to up to eight different odorant signals can be tested at the same time. A first series of tests revealed that male and female fruit flies responded differently to attractant substances.The tests confirmed that male flies were no longer attracted to females that had already mated with another male because of the particular odor, cis-vaccenyl acetate, surrounding these females. Two further publications report on the processing of odor signals in the insect brain. (Nature Scientific Reports, Cell Reports, Journal of Experimental Biology)
Fruit flies: New pheromone
Experiments with fruit flies demonstrated that females − in contrast to males − were more attracted by typical food odors, such as ethyl acetate. This behavior seems to reflect the search for the best oviposition place in order to make sure that the larval offspring will find sufficient food after hatching. The response to deterrent odors, such as benzaldehyde, was identical in both males and females. Males, on the other hand, responded positively to the odor of unmated females: If the odor surrounding virgin females was introduced into the Flywalk tubes, the males moved upwind. “This way, we demonstrated for the first time that females, as observed in other insect species, attract their mates with odors. The chemistry of these odorant substances is currently being analyzed,” says Kathrin Steck, who carried out the experiments. The substance that renders mated females unattractive to males willing to mate is already known: cis-vaccenyl acetate. With this odor a male marks the female during copulation. Thus a male fruit fly prevents further fertilization by other males and makes sure that his genes are spread.
From odorant receptor to behavior: What happens in the brain?
Dr. Jan-Wolfhard Kellmann | Max-Planck-Institut
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