The ability to detect rotten food is so crucial for survival that even flies have a dedicated neural circuit to do just that, according to a study published on December 6th in the Cell Press journal Cell. The brain circuit allows flies to avoid feeding and laying eggs on fruit covered in toxic molds and bacteria and represents a unique, specialized system for detecting a repulsive odor.
"When this compound is present in the air, even the most attractive food source becomes unattractive," says senior study author Bill Hansson of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology. "This is highly interesting, as it's seldom that single compounds have a direct behavioral effect and that they are active at extremely low concentrations as we observe here."
The vinegar fly (Drosophila melanogaster) feeds on yeast that grows on fermenting fruit, and the olfactory pathways that underlie the insect's attraction toward the smell of vinegar have been well characterized. But relatively little is known about circuits that mediate avoidance of foul odors. One potential candidate for a dedicated avoidance circuit was recently discovered by Hansson and his collaborators, who found that the chemical geosmin, which is produced by harmful fungi and bacteria, is strongly repulsive to flies.
"It is obviously highly important for all organisms to stay away from spoiled food," says lead study author Marcus Stensmyr of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology. "Detecting and avoiding food infested by bad microbes seems to be a ubiquitous phenomenon, where the nervous system has evolved to extreme degrees to make it work."
Cell Press: http://www.cellpress.com
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In the article on the discovery of dinosaurs (They’re back, Review, 6 June) you state: “In Sussex, a local doctor uncovered fragmentary remains of what appeared to be two more species of colossal extinct land reptiles.” You grossly underplay the contribution of Lewes-born Gideon Mantell, geologist and palaeontologist, author and diarist, friend to princes and international scholars as well as local doctor. Mantell not only discovered (aided by his wife) the first remains of the iguanodon in 1824 but named it – as it resembled the tooth of an iguana. This was the first known land dinosaur, Mary Anning having identified the first sea-living dinosaur.Mantell went on to put together more pieces of the jigsaw with extra fossil discoveries. In contrast to Richard Owen, whose models form the basis for the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, Mantell stated correctly that iguanodon would have walked on their back legs, using their forearms to fight or gather food. He did, however, attribute the thumb spike to a nose horn though later corrected this assumption. The Natural History Museum has a display on Gideon and his wife Mary’s contribution as well as the large “Mantell-piece” of Iguanodon fossils that he had on show in his museum in Brighton. He sold it, along with many more priceless items, to the British Museum in 1838. Gideon Mantell’s reputation deserves better than your throwaway remark. Debby MatthewsLewes, East Sussex Continue reading...
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