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Curr Biol. 2011 May 10;21(9):751-5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.058. Epub 2011 Apr 21.

Drosophila evaluates and learns the nutritional value of sugars.

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Department of Biology, Graduate School of Sciences, Kyushu University, Hakozaki, Fukuoka 812-8581, Japan.


Living organisms need to search for and ingest nutritional chemicals, and gustation plays a major role in detecting and discriminating between chemicals present in the environment. Using Drosophila as a model organism, we asked whether animals have the ability to evaluate the nutritional value of sugars. In flies, chemosensilla on the tarsi and labellum are the gustatory organs used to discriminate between edible and nonedible compounds [1, 2]. We noticed that Drosophila do not assign nutritional values to all sweet chemicals. D-arabinose is sweet to flies, but it provides them with no nutrition. By contrast, the sugar alcohol D-sorbitol is not sensed as sweet, but flies can live on it. We performed behavioral and electrophysiological measurements to confirm these gustatory and feeding responses. We found that Drosophila can learn the nutritional value of nonsweet D-sorbitol when it is associated with an odor cue. The learning process involved the synapsin molecule, suggesting that a neuronal mechanism is involved. We propose that Drosophila uses neural machinery to detect, evaluate, and learn the nutritional value of foods after ingestion.

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