Fruit flies help reveal how animals learn to like the food they dislike

Last Updated: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - 16:01

Washington: Researchers use a fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, to unravel a mechanism to explain how animals modify their taste preferences.

UC Santa Barbara’s Craig Montell, Duggan Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, said that this study was inspired by trying to understand how it is an animal learns to like foods they didn’t like before.

He said that they want to understand taste proclivity because it is a universal behaviour in all animals.

The researchers focused on camphor, an aversive but safe food additive. Historically, camphor has been used as a main flavouring ingredient for many desserts, including ice cream.

They found that fruit flies learn to consume camphor-containing foods if they are fed long-term on a camphor diet.

The fruit flies’ reduced distaste for camphor occurred through a mechanism that involves the degradation of the TRPL protein by an enzyme called E3 ubiquitin ligase, or Ube3a, which targets specific protein substrates for degradation. Following the decline in TRPL, there was also a decrease in synaptic connections, but that was not sufficient to cause the taste adaptation.

Montell and his team surmise that the calcium influx resulting from increased activity of TRPL in the presence of camphor leads to increased internalization of the channel.

The research has been published in Nature Neuroscience.


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First Published: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - 16:01

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