Flies may taste bitter better, first map of insect 'tongue' reveals

speculates. For example, he said, a fruit fly landing on spoiled apples infected with different bacteria could select those less likely to cause harm when ingested.

In mammals, taste receptors on the tongue can detect five primary flavors: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami -- a savory or meaty taste. The sense of taste plays an important role in mammals' decisions about what to eat and what to avoid, and scientists have identified many of the underlying genes and their functions.

In the Drosophila fruit fly, taste receptors are found all over the insect body -- on taste bristles and pegs at the tip of the insect labellum, and in clusters of taste cells in the pharynx. Still other taste sensors are found on the fly's legs and along the margin of the wings. Each tasting bristle or peg contains chemosensory nerve cells bearing receptor proteins that respond to particular compounds.

Geneticists have proposed that many if not most of the tasting abilities in the insect are enabled by receptor proteins coded for by the gustatory receptor (Gr) gene family, consisting of 60 related genes, Amrein said. "But little is known about how insects examine food and decide what to eat," he added.

The team's earlier research indicated that the receptor produced by one Gr gene detects pheromones important in sexual behavior and mating. A research group at another university also has found that a second receptor senses the sugar trehalose, a metabolic component of yeast and major part of the fruit fly diet.

In the current study, Amrein's team mapped the location on the fly's labellum and body of cells that produce proteins encoded by eight of the Gr genes, including the earlier identified trehalose receptor.

The researchers linked individual taste receptor genes with their functions by disabling specific taste cells and observing the feeding behavior of the resulting mutant flies. For example, flies that lacked taste cells containing th

Contact: Kendall Morgan
Duke University Medical Center

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