Fruit flies also have a taste for food

Bitter or sweet?

Fruit fly

Think of fruit flies, and a picture of tiny, brown insects sitting on a rotten banana comes to mind. Think a little further. Have you ever seen these flies hovering around anything that tastes bitter? Perhaps, not! A fruit fly, or Drosophila, decides to eat or not eat something just like we do — by tasting it. Once it lands on potential food material, information is passed from the receptors on its body surface to its brain, helping it decide whether the stuff is good to eat. If it is found suitable, the fly extends its proboscis, the tube-like organ it uses in feeding, and drinks up the food juices.

So, how does the Drosophila distinguish between tastes and identify edible food? “We always wondered if a fly uses different neurons for processing different types of taste, or if there was a common neural circuit for all,” shares Ali Asgar Bohra, research scholar at National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru. Although surprising, it is true that Drosophila has a taste profile very similar to ours; it can detect chemicals in food like carbohydrates, acids, and salt. In insects, the gustatory information is processed in a part of their brain called the ‘suboesophageal zone’, located below the oesophagus. This region has neurons which control eating and extension of the proboscis.

We know how the Drosophila brain processes sweet taste, but not much is known about how it handles bitter and other tastes.

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Fruit flies also have a taste for food

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