Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


The love song of a fly

Neurobiologists at Vienna’s Research Institute of Molecular Pathology use the mating ritual of the fruit fly to study how the nervous system initiates, controls and utilizes behavior. Using newly developed thermogenetic methods, the researchers are able to initiate the courtship song of the male fly by “remote control”, and study the involved neural networks. The scientific journal NEURON recently published their findings.

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).

Dr. Heidemarie Hurtl
IMP-IMBA Communications
(+ 43 1) 79730 3625

Dr. Heidemarie Hurtl | idw
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>