Male fruit flies of the Drosophila melanogaster species perform a complex courtship ritual to attract the attention of female flies and make them amenable to mating. As part of the ritual, the male fly performs a “song” by extending a wing and vibrating it. The pulsating acoustic signal produced by this exercise sounds rather like static crackling or humming to the human ear. However, the female fly finds the sound irresistible. Singing is an important part of the fly's courtship; how well the male performs its song is crucial for the success of its mating.
Under natural circumstances, the sight and smell of a female fly induce courtship in the male. At the Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna, scientists have developed a kind of molecular “remote control” to initiate the ritual. Anne von Philipsborn, a biologist and Postdoc in the lab of IMP Director Barry Dickson, works with genetically modified fruit flies. By raising the ambient temperature, she can get an isolated male fly - in the absence of a female, and presumably not thinking at all about sex - to become aroused and initiate courtship.
This condition is achieved by the use of a method known as thermal activation. Defined sets of nerve cells (neurons) are fitted with temperature-sensitive ion channels. These channels open up when the temperature approaches 30 degrees and become permeable for certain small molecules. The flow of ions, in turn, activates the nerve cell and triggers an impulse.
By switching on and off targeted nerve cells, the neurobiologists in Vienna were able to identify two centers in the fly’s nervous system that control singing. The command to sing comes from a center located in the brain. This network of cells receives input from various sources; the most important of these are sensory organs and other regions of the brain. What the fly sees, hears and smells is channeled to this circuit and, together with pre-existing information obtained from prior experience, a decision is made to court or not to court the female.
The second neural circuit is located in the chest and is connected to the muscles that move the wings. This network is a so-called pattern generator. It coordinates the movement of the muscles and produces their rhythmic pattern.
For the scientists at the IMP, the courtship song of the fruit fly serves as a model to investigate the neural mechanisms of decision-making, action selection, and motor pattern generation. In short, they want to find out how meaningful behavior is orchestrated.
Having found the key neurons that make the fly sing, the team of neurobiologists will continue to look deeper into the mechanisms that control behavior. Barry Dickson explains their future plans: “We now need to figure out exactly how this circuit works under normal conditions, when the male is naturally aroused by a virgin female. And we are also now starting to use the same method to look for neurons that trigger other components of mating behavior, such as copulation itself."
Original publication: „Neuronal control of Drosophila courtship song“ (Anne C. von Philipsborn et al.). NEURON, February 10, 2011 (Vol. 69, pp. 509–522).Contact:
Dr. Heidemarie Hurtl | idw
Unique genome architectures after fertilisation in single-cell embryos
30.03.2017 | IMBA - Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften GmbH
Transport of molecular motors into cilia
28.03.2017 | Aarhus University
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine
30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine
30.03.2017 | Medical Engineering