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Curr Biol. 2008 Sep 23;18(18):1384-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.07.088. Epub 2008 Sep 11.

Social context influences chemical communication in D. melanogaster males.

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Department of Biology, University of Toronto at Mississauga, Mississauga, ON L5L 1C6, Canada.


Chemical communication mediates social interactions in insects. For the fruit fly, D. melanogaster, the chemical display is a key fitness trait because it leads to mating. An exchange of cues that resembles a dialogue between males and females is enacted by pheromones, chemical signals that pass between individual flies to alter physiology and behavior. Chemical signals also affect the timing of locomotor activity and sleep. We investigated genetic and environmental determinants of chemical communication. To evaluate the role of the social environment, we extracted a chemical blend from individual males selected from groups composed of one genotype and compared these extracts to those from groups of mixed genotypes. To evaluate the role of the physical environment, these comparisons were performed under a light-dark cycle or in constant darkness. Here, we show that chemical signaling is affected by the social environment, light-dark cycle, and genotype as well as the complex interplay of these variables. Gene-by-environment interactions produce highly significant effects on chemical signaling. We also examined individual responses within the groups. Strikingly, the response of one wild-type fly to another is modulated by the genotypic composition of his neighbors. Chemical signaling in D. melanogaster may be a "fickle" trait that depends on the individual's social background.

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