24/Apr/2014 - Last News Update: 14:00

Fruit flies learn to spot eligible females by smell

Category: Headlines

Published: 20th Aug 2012 10:57:14

Young male fruit flies learn the smell of a receptive female to avoid wasting their sexual efforts, research shows.

Promiscuous male flies initially court all females, but are rejected by those who have already mated.

It is clear that the flies eventually learn to spot mated females, but just how they do has remained a mystery.

Research published in Nature suggests that they smell a chemical signal called a pheromone left by other males during mating.

The studies were performed using the common fruit fly - Drosophila melanogaster. This insect is used widely in genetic studies because they are easy to grow and they reproduce quickly - but principally because it is possible to generate and study flies that possess changes - or mutations - in their genetic material.

In the study, Prof Barry Dickson and colleagues from the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna, Austria, performed a series of studies to identify the mechanism that led to this change in behaviour in older flies.

Using complementary approaches, the team showed that a pheromone called cVA was responsible. Pheromones are substances produced by one individual which modify the behaviour of another. They are widely known to work in the animal kingdom to warn of danger, define territories or attract mates.

In male fruitflies, cVA is deposited on females during mating in what appears to be another example of signalling.

In one experiment, the team showed that male fruitflies that could not sense cVA, either because of a natural mutation or genetic engineering, could not differentiate between mated and virgin females.

In another, females engineered to produce the pheromone kept the amorous males at bay, even though the females had not mated.

From the outset, male flies can smell cVA but do not respond to it. However, they soon learn to associate courtship rejection with the presence of the pheromone. This learning process is mediated by a powerful chemical - called dopamine - released by their primitive brains.

In insects, dopamine affects a range of behaviours including sleep, movement, courtship and learning. In mammals, it affects the brain and is associated with reward. Drugs such as cocaine cause release of large amounts of dopamine.

Discussing the implications of the research, Prof Dickson told BBC News: "Similar learning strategies are likely to apply across a wide range of species, including humans, and indeed there is considerable evidence that dopamine signals mediate learning in a wide variety of contexts and species."

Prof Charalambos Kyriacou from the University of Leicester said: "This research shows how an instinctive behavioural programme, in this case the courtship behaviour of male fruitflies, can nevertheless be modulated by experience - in other words behaviour is not absolutely hard-wired in the brain even in this tiny insect."

Commenting about the wider impact of the research, Prof Kyriacou went on to say: "I would expect this type of phenomenon to be quite widespread in the instinctive courtship patterns of insects or even higher animals."

Prof Kyriacou said that the findings could even to be put to use in fighting crop pests or insects that carry disease.

"These types of aversive and highly species-specific molecules might potentially be useful for the control of insects of economic or medical importance," he said.

Source:
BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2012. Fruit flies learn to spot eligible females by smell [Online] (Updated 20th Aug 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1447117/Fruit-flies-learn-to-spot-eligible-females-by-smell [Accessed 24th Apr 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • Inverness man who throttled girl gets community service

    A man who throttled a 12-year-old girl until she collapsed unconscious has been ordered to carry out unpaid community work.
  • Coronation Street star Barbara Knox denies drink-drive charge

    Coronation Street actress Barbara Knox has pleaded not guilty to drinking and driving.
  • Gun attack on house in west Belfast treated as hate crime

    Shots have been fired at a house in west Belfast in an incident being treated as a hate crime by police.
  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
  • Abdullah Abdullah leads Afghanistan poll count

    Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah remains the frontrunner with 80% of votes counted, officials say.
  • Scottish independence: BBC under pressure over CBI membership

    Supporters of Scottish independence have questioned why the BBC has not resigned from the CBI over the business group's referendum stance.